David Cameron and his team will be doing some post-match analysis after his first prime minister’s questions against the new Labour leader. They will be wondering how and why he came off relatively badly against Ed Miliband.
This first encounter may not set the pace for the many years ahead, but it was a good result for Labour. Miliband performed well because:
a] He picked a topic, cuts in child benefit for those in the top income tax bracket, which makes many Tory MPs feel uncomfortable and which resonates in Middle England. He stayed on the subject for as long as he could. And he had two awkward statistics up his sleeve. 1] That the policy hurts families where only one person is working on £45,000 but doesn’t hit families with two earners on just under £44,000. 2] That a family with three children taking home £33,000 after tax would effectively pay an extra 6p in the pound on the basic rate of income tax.
b] He sought to maintain an air of calm, only raising his voice at one moment. Gordon Brown was so aggressive as prime minister that he eventually turned himself into fair game for Tory abuse. Miliband’s tactic is to try to sound like the reasonable politician only wanting to know the truth. Cameron, for all his skills in oratory, may struggle to hit exactly the right note when dealing with the younger, less polished leader of the opposition.
c] He threw a question that stumped the prime minister: whether the coalition had any figures showing how many stay-at-home mothers would be affected by the withdrawal of child benefit. Cameron clearly did not know. The prime minister’s response to Miliband’s line of attack was that it was ludicrous that low-earning families should pay tax to subsidise the child benefit of him and other well-off parents. He has a point; but it didn’t seem to resonate today.
There are still dangers ahead for Mili-E which were spotted by several in the press gallery today. One is that his voice is still slow, and his lisp seems to be exaggerated by the Commons microphones. The other is that opposing cuts is all well and good – but he won’t be able to do that week in, week out without eroding his own economic credentials.
He has promised to produce Labour’s alternative vision on how to reduce the deficit by the CSR next week, as Cameron reminded him. Will it provide anything like a credible level of detail?
UPDATE: I forgot to mention Cameron’s best joke, which was that Miliband was more “Brown” than “red”.