Wednesday, 13 October 2010

So, how did it go at PMQs?

The Miliband/Cameron encounter (13 minutes long, as in the above video clip) was more or less as I predicted, though Ed-M concentrated on the (slightly old news) child benefit changes, rather than this week's news.

The views of those who have commented, whether in newspapers or on the BBC's Daily Politics Show (audience as much as studio guests and Nick "Toenails" Robinson), seem to be to read from the encounter what they wanted to see. Some say Ed did well, others say he was very poor. Some say one or the other about David Cameron.

The truth appears to be partly somewhere in between, and partly not as clear-cut as "did well" or "did poorly". Neither was all that brilliant, in the final analysis; though I thought I detected a conscious attempt by Cameron not to come across as "bullying" the new boy facing him, and pulled his punches somewhat.

To be fair to that "new boy", who was perhaps a little shaky and nervous, tripping over the occasional word - all those I have seen over the years suffer much the same on their first PMQs outing, whichever party they are in effect representing and whichever side of the Despatch Box they are on (i.e. Government side or Opposition side).

Ed did try to remain solemn and quiet until the last question, when he unleashed both barrels at Cameron, to some effect though obviously nowhere near as much as he had clearly intended. He still has much to learn - but he also has plenty of time to learn, presumably at any rate! It seems likely that, come what may, he'll be given several months to make his mark before there is any real likelihood of being deposed if it doesn't work out, as I have written before.

The psychology of the two protagonists is interesting. On the one hand we have David Cameron, the political heavyweight who is so comfortable within himself and as a party leader, and has been for years. He is also very comfortable as Prime Minister, as these past few months have shown. He has had several years of practice at the Despatch Box, facing Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, and Alistair Darling (at Budget times under the last government), whereas Ed's experience in the House has been entirely at a much lower level.

Thus Ed's mental approach was to take on this political master, in much the same way that an underdog in the boxing or wrestling ring takes on an established champion: cunning and craftiness are the weapons of choice. By specifically targeting precise cases of those who would lose out on child benefit as against those in seemingly equally or even less worthy situations who would not, Ed gave himself a handle to grasp for this encounter.

The main problem with this was that it was an argument that had been around the media, especially online media and blogs, for days, so the pro's and con's and all the rest of it had already been dealt with. Cameron was unsurprisingly ready for whatever Ed could throw at him and deflected it reasonably effectively.

He also had the advantage of not only knowing the true state of our public finances, which Labour had kept hidden for years, but being perfectly happy to state it openly. No doubt that still stings with Labour, even though they continue to try to pretend it is not as the government claims. I do wish that absolutely everything non-classified were to be put into the public domain: it would be conclusive proof to all of us. Perhaps one day it will be done.

For now, though, this was an interesting PMQs for the Ed-M/DC encounter, from which we can look forward to their shaping up into something more engrossing in the weeks and months to come.

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