It was no surprise that Ed Miliband led on the economy today, on the day that GDP figures showed a drop in output in the last quarter of last year.
The Labour leader’s questioning was more effective than usual. He has a new line that looks like it could pay off:
He and his chancellor are the byword for smug, self-satisfied complacency.
It certainly gives us all some relief from the previous ubiquitous epithet Labour applied to the prime minister and his party of “out of touch”.
But Miliband’s weakness on the economy still shows, and Cameron more than effectively countered, saying:
There are two parties taking responsibility for clearing up the mess and one party failing to take responsibility for causing the mess.
Some were surprised that Miliband then switched the line of attack, choosing to devote his second three questions to the NHS, which amid the economic gloom, doesn’t feel like the issue of the day.
But the tactic worked perfectly. The Labour leader had the perfect quotation from the PM to skewer him with:
We have the Royal College of GPs, the Royal College of Nursing, people working in the health service, all supporting our reforms.
A week after the Royal Colleges of Nursing and Midwives joined the British Medical Association in opposing the bill, what, Miliband wanted to know, had changed?
To this Cameron offered a weak joke:
I have certainly learned that when it comes to the NHS you should always expect a second opinion.
Followed by a weaker defence, citing the support of one Doncaster GP, who said:
Becoming one of the first national pathfinder areas is a real boost for Doncaster.
The prime minister hoped that citing the support of someone in Miliband’s own constituency would embarrass the Labour leader. But instead, most people wondered why he couldn’t call anyone else to his support. Unfortunately, by making a big deal out of winning the support of the medical bodies last year, Cameron made a rod for his own back. Now he has to face the consequences.
But the broader lessons for Miliband are these: the “smug, self-satisfied” line works, but don’t overuse it; and keep attacking the Tories on the NHS.