Provided with the ammunition of some terrible employment figures, Miliband had an ideal quote with which to bash the prime minister:
The prime minister justified his economic policy by saying unemployment would fall this year, next year and the year after. Isn’t it time he admitted his plan isn’t working?
Cameron, conscious that he couldn’t look like he didn’t care about the spectre of people losing their jobs, immediately had to admit the figures were “disappointing”, to huge jeers from the Labour benches. And the tone was set.
Miliband went on to argue that no jobs means no deficit reduction (because of higher benefit costs and lower tax yields). He made it well and cogently, before hitting Cameron in another of his weak spots, pointing out how high unemployment was among women.
In the past, Miliband has been wary of attacking on the economy because of what Alistair Darling said in his book about Labour lacking a credible economic policy. Sure enough, Cameron used the Darling quotes, but this time Miliband had an answer: he threw back the quotes from Andrew Tyrie about the government’s growth plan not being “credible or coherent”. That may have nullified that line of attack for Cameron.
Miliband scored another direct hit with his next question: asking how many companies had taken up the national insurance holiday. Osborne had promised 40,000. The real answer Cameron admitted straight away, and to even louder jeers, was 7,000.
Cameron tried to attack Labour for not having a credible economic plan. The problem is, Miliband now has Ed Balls’ five-point growth plan to fall back on. The Tory response is that the plan would require more borrowing, because it needs higher public spending in the short term. The problem is, the longer unemployment continues to rise, the less people will care about national debt and the more they will care about what the government is doing to protect their jobs.
And then came the “but…”. Miliband should have been able to use the announcement by Scottish and Southern today (as broken by the FT) that they were following his suggestion to make all of their electricity available on the open market as evidence of his economic credibility. But instead, somewhat gauchely, he claimed SSE had taken this action “because of what I said”. Tories laughed, and the echoes with Gordon Brown’s claim to have saved the world was clear.
Slight slips aside, Miliband scored a direct hit today. And given that the theme was the economy, that could prove significant.