On the day after George Osborne admitted that he had recently lowered his short-term growth expectations, and with a row currently waging over the government’s wish to scrap the popular 50p top rate of income tax, Ed Miliband might have been expected to use the first PMQs after the summer to attack David Cameron on the economy.
But instead, we found ourselves in two rather old arguments, about police numbers and NHS waiting lists. While both are undoubtedly important subjects, somehow the debate felt a bit off-topic.
The reason for Miliband avoiding the big issue of the day became apparent later in the session, when the prime minister was asked by a Labour backbencher about the 50p rate and replied:
The person responsible for Labour’s economic policy at the last election said that they had no credibility whatsoever.
He was referring to Alistair Darling, Labour’s former chancellor, whose memoirs published this week describe a 2009 pre-Budget report whose creation was so chaotic and disunified that it resulted in a complete mess of an economic policy.
The problem for Miliband and his shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, is that they continue to follow the Darling economic plan, leading to the conclusion that the former chancellor thinks Labour’s current economic policy is a similar mess.
Labour officials might argue that while the party is following the broad idea of halving the deficit in four years, it has yet to spell out exactly how it would so, and it is not tied to the detail of the 2009 PBR. But the case is a difficult and technical one to make, and was likely to get lost in the heat of battle in a packed Commons chamber, especially when Cameron had such great quotes to rely on from the former chancellor himself.
David Cameron came into the chamber clutching a copy of Darling’s book. It may, for weeks, even months to come, prove his best defence against Labour’s criticism of his handling of the economy.