They call it the weekly bearpit and this week PMQs excelled itself: a spitting, snarling, savage exchange of insults which created heat but almost no light.
The coalition is still reeling from the after-effect of George Osborne’s Budget, which provided endless ammunition for the opposition. The cut in the 50p tax rate, the penalising of pensioners and the raid on philanthropists – all are decent targets for Ed Miliband to chip away at.
So did Miliband land the blows? Instead David Cameron went on the attack, throwing up chaff to distract the entire chamber from the Budget. His method? Focus entirely on Ken Livingstone’s tax affairs, not only through his answers to Miliband’s questions but also through a series of questions from supine Tory backbenchers. Livingstone’s tax rate could be lower than the staff at the GLA – or even his own cleaner – Cameron suggested. “Why won’t he condemn it?”
It was a counter-attack to which Miliband had little or no defence or explanation, even if his mayoral candidate does have one. (And here is Tim Worstall defending Ken’s tax affairs). Instead he could only watch as the prime minister used Red Ken as his human shield to deflect the charge that the Tories are only out to help the rich.
This was the prime minister at his gloriously aggressive best (or worst, depending on your perspective). He was swaggering, throwing out insults, (Miliband was “not good enough to run the opposition, not good enough to run the country”) and tapping his watch as if to say ‘get on with it’.
He even found time to insult one of his backbenchers, Douglas Carswell, accusing him of lacking a sense of humour. Carswell apparently muttered: “How to win friends and influence people.”
But mostly Cameron’s Flashman act was reserved for the leader of the opposition.
As spectacles go it was not entirely edifying; like watching the classroom bully laying into the ernest nerd. Whether it will shed light on the political and policy process for those beyond Westminster seems doubtful: perhaps that was the intention.