Ed Miliband started well at today’s PMQs, using David Cameron’s words from his 2011 New Year message to highlight the government’s failure to stop the rise in unemployment, which has hit a new 17-year high.
Miliband quotes the PM as saying: “What is uppermost in my mind is jobs,” before asking, “What went wrong?”
There then followed such a well-worn debate (“Unemployment is rising,” says Labour; “Here’s what we’re doing to tackle it,” say the Tories) that half the press gallery fell asleep during it.
We were waiting to see how much fun Miliband would have with the split between Cameron and Clegg over Europe. And he certainly tried, even if his segue between the jobs issue and Europe was ham-fisted:
He has broken his promise on jobs, and he has broken his promise on the coalition too – and may I say it is nice to see the deputy prime minister [Clegg stayed away from Monday's Europe debate].
Again, he referred to the PM’s new year message, highlighting the part where Cameron promised “a more collegiate approach” to government. But Cameron promising collegiality and then falling out with Clegg over Europe is not especially stark hypocrisy – this was not a killer attack, and Cameron sensed it. He in turn deployed the one joke that sealed his victory:
It’s not that bad, it’s not like we’re brothers or anything.
Miliband himself had a great line to follow up:
I think our sympathy is with the deputy prime minister. His partner goes on a business trip, he is left waiting by the phone and he hears nothing until a rambling phone call at 4am confessing to a mistake.
But it was too late: Cameron, who already had the House on his side after last week’s veto, had them eating out of his hands by now, and they were in no mood to listen to the leader of the opposition.
And it got worse: somehow someone in Cameron’s camp appeared to have anticipated that Miliband would bring up the PM’s new year message, and he had lines from Miliband’s own, which if anything were more damning:
“The fightback starts in Scotland” – well that went well…
It was a fittingly pantomime final PMQs before Christmas, and Miliband was comprehensively out-joked.