It was an intriguing PMQs today. As I have previously noted, Ed Miliband has begun to find his feet on the economy, and once again used this as his main attack line.
As he has done at previous sessions he chose an obscure policy that has achieved little so far (this time the “business growth fund”, which was set up using money from the Merlin agreement), and used it to embarrass the PM.
As has happened before, Cameron didn’t know what the policy was (in fact at the end, he started talking about the Regional Growth Fund – a different fund altogether). So when asked how many businesses the fund had invested in, he was unable to answer.
Miliband had the answer for him: it is two. And when asked about bank lending to small business in general, he used the excuse to lay into the banks themselves, saying:
These are the banks he (Miliband) completely failed to regulate.
Then when the topic moved onto high executive pay, Cameron showed even more willingness to attack from the left, listing the ways in which his government has bashed the rich, including the bank levy, increased fees for non-doms, tax agreements with Switzerland and Lichtenstein.
He then said something even more surprising, mentioning the editorial in today’s FT by Archbishop Rowan Williams:
The Archbishop of Canterbury speaks for the whole country when he says… people at the top of society are not showing enough responsibility.
This line plays right into Labour’s hands though, allowing Miliband to mention the 50p tax rate, which Labour brought in and supports at least for the medium term, whereas the Tories are talking more about when they can drop it.
Which meant Cameron then had to go even further to the left, attacking, of all people, Lord Mandelson:
We are a little bit wary of accepting lectures from a party who told us they were intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.
When Lord Mandelson made that comment (and we should remember that he added “as long as they pay their tax”) he was trying to move Labour onto the same ground as the Tories on tax. The fact that Cameron has now disowned it suggests Miliband and his supporters may be right, at least in the short term, that the public debate is moving in their direction.
Miliband finished his questioning by putting himself firmly on the side of the protesters camped outside St Paul’s, echoing their “We are the 99 per cent” slogan:
He says we are all in this together but he lets the 1 per cent get away with it while the other 99 per cent are squeezed and fear losing their jobs.
Perhaps the most surprising lesson from this PMQs is that this rag-tag bunch of protesters, with no clear set of aims, who were being opposed just two days ago by the Tories and St Paul’s cathedral, now appear to have got the party leaders fighting to get on their side.