Most of the exchanges at PMQs today were fairly predictable in the light of yesterday’s autumn statement. Ed Miliband accused the prime minister of having failed to meet his fiscal plan; the prime minister accused Labour of wanting to borrow even more.
But there was a fascinating undercurrent running throughout this session, one that took us back to the politics of the 1970s and 80s.
It began with Miliband’s first question. Perhaps surprisingly, given links to the unions are often perceived as one of Labour’s weak points, he went straight in on the strike action by public sector workers taking place across the country today. Not only that, but he identified overtly with those on strike:
So many hard working public sector workers, many of whom have never been on strike before, feel the government simply isn’t listening.
As David Cameron was keen to point out, this was a marked change from Miliband’s position the last time there were such strikes, when he said the unions should not be striking while negotiations were ongoing.
But that didn’t deter the Labour leader, who followed up later in the exchange saying:
Unlike him, I’m not going to demonise the dinner ladies, the cleaners, the nurses…
And then the class politics became really evident:
… people who earn in a week what the chancellor pays for his annual skiing holiday.
He went on to insist:
I am proud that millions of hard working people support the Labour party. Better that than Lord Ashcroft.
Cameron went on to make his usual point about Labour being in the pockets of the unions, but it was his final rebuttal that showed he has identified Miliband’s direction and intends to attack it head-on:
He is being tested and he is showing that he is weak, left-wing and irresponsible.
Note that use of “left wing”. Tory polling found that there wasn’t much to be gained from attacking Miliband for being too left-wing soon after he took over as Labour leader, because many voters simply didn’t know enough about him for this to resonate. But I bet it won’t be too long before the “Red Ed” tag makes a comeback.