13 Oct 2010

Ed Miliband: the new kid at the box

Ed Miliband takes the stand at the despatch box and comes face to face with the Coalition for the first time as Labour leader. Broadcaster Peter McHugh analyses his performance.

Every leader of the opposition knows that when he stands up for the first time in the House of Commons the MPs in front did not vote for him.

Ed Miliband had the unique pleasure of knowing that neither did the ones behind.

But that small detail was not going to stop him. After all hadn’t Nick and Dave already made it clear that the political motto of this parliament is carpe diem and that possession is at least 10 tenths of the law.

One moment he was absent and suddenly there he was, cheered into his seat by they very people who hadn’t quite been able to bring themselves to vote for him.

But politics is about survival and so brother David whose brutal dispatch had thrown a pall over the proceedings was consigned to history.

There was a little spot of grey in the otherwise jet black hair that befits someone who at 40 is actually younger than Dave and Nick.

He slid into his seat flanked by Labour’s “new generation” Harriet Harman, Alan Johnson and Douglas Alexander, a Scottish version of the speaking clock .The fact that they all had, as the police might put it “previous” with regard to the matters at hand was clearly to be ignored.

On his left a pasty faced Nick Clegg who already knew he was in for a good kicking over student loans

Dave had chosen to a pair of pals to surround himself for the opening of hostilities. On his right, appositely, the Chancellor slightly florid perhaps remembering quaffing the world’s most expensive wine Chateau Petrus at the Tory Party conference.

And on his left a pasty faced Nick Clegg who already knew he was in for a good kicking over student loans.

It marked the beginning of the end of the phoney war, the interregnum since the General Election, Labour refreshed, reinvigorated, Ed at the head of his troops, let battle commence. Or so his side hoped.

As excitement mounted the Speaker John Bercow, who should some still think petition Parliament to have his seat lowered, called on Dave to start.

The Prime Minister welcomed Ed with all the sincerity you would expect from someone who had languished in that very spot for years and years and had no intention of ever returning to it.

Ed may only have gone to Haverstock Hill Comp but his mam will have been pleased with his gracious reply. Then it was down to business.

It was immediately clear that Ed had forgotten where he was because he obviously thought he was at something called PMAs not PMQs.

PMAs, were it to exist in parliamentary language, would be Prime Minister’s Answers but it does not exist.

What does exist is Prime Minister’s Questions – a session where questions can indeed be asked but where answers are not only rarely required but even less rarely given.

The traditional way to handle a question by the Leader of The Opposition is to immediately turn it back to him as another question which he can then refuse to answer. In this way democracy is enhanced.

Ed claimed he might be new to the game but it was his job to ask the questions. He won’t make that mistake again.

He did skewer Dave on child benefit thereby managing to ally himself fully with the Mail and Telegraph .Tony would have been proud.

Dave blustered his way out conscious of the fact that many behind him on his own benches would have given Ed a cheer if it hadn’t meant automatic de-selection.

And as suddenly as he had begun Ed finished and sat down. His side cheered to the rafters. They may not have wanted him but now they had him and as he hadn’t fallen over history could be rewritten.

Nick smiled wanly as he realized he wasn’t going to get the same kicking Vince Cable had over student loans, at least not this time.

Dave got out his sound bite “It’s not Red it’s Brown” and everyone laughed although no one knew what it meant.

Even more confusion on some faces when the PM suddenly revealed there was a Sepp Blatter in the House. Was this a threat to Ed, did it hurt, could you eat it?

He explained it was not an it but apparently a person who was here to judge on our suitability to host the 2018 World Cup.

The World Cup is of course something we ourselves have previously won. In fact only the night before we had shown our preparations were on track by pulling off a no score draw with a country whose population in less than that of Hull.

It was not a battle it was not even a skirmish. This is still the phoney war and Ed should enjoy the next few days and whatever adulation he gets as much as he can.

But 2018 is a good date to keep in mind since many believe that is when we may start emerging from the not inconsiderable cash or lack of it crisis we now find ourselves in.

It was not a battle it was not even a skirmish. This is still the phoney war and Ed should enjoy the next few days and whatever adulation he gets as much as he can.

Next Wednesday it really begins as George Osborne rolls out the results of the Comprehensive Spending Review.

Then we will find out if giving the shadow Chancellors job to Alan Johnson was more than just not giving it to Ed Balls.

Then Ed will be asked for his answers and not just his questions.

We will find out if George and Dave are able to comprehend the effect of the cuts on the whole population and, together with the other 21 millionaires in the Cabinet, are not just rich boys with no idea how the other half, nay how the other 99 per cent live.

And we’ll find out if it is right or true that when the going gets tough the Lib Dems get going.

When Horace wrote “Carpe diem”, he added, “quam minimum credula postero”.

“Seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the future”. That might do for the World Cup, but for the country….