It was a curiously flat PMQs today, partially because we have heard the stock questions and answers from both party leaders on each of the issues that was raised.
Ed Miliband brought up growth, David Cameron countered with low interest rates. Miliband asked about police cuts, Cameron responded with figures about the proportion of back office staff to frontline officers. Miliband asked about nursing cuts, Cameron mentioned Labour’s refusal to guarantee real-terms rises in health spending at the last election.
But two issues caught the eye: the first is the battle over Francois Hollande. The socialist French prime minister’s election poses a risk for both leaders. Hollande’s rhetoric about growth versus austerity has echoed much of what Ed Balls has been saying in this country.
Therefore if the French economy begins to recover, it gives Cameron the headache of having an apparently viable alternative economic model thriving just across the Channel. If however it fails, with growth stagnating and the bond markets starting to punish France, it will give the prime minister the perfect ammunition with which to attack the Balls plan.
This ended up with the spectacle of a Tory prime minister insisting he has a similar economic model to a socialist president:
The French president, when asked how to stimulate growth, said the means can’t be public spending, because we want to rein it in.
This gave Ed Miliband the opportunity for the joke of the day:
It is a shame he didn’t see the French prime minister three months ago but I am sure Mr Speaker that a test message and “LOL” will go down very well.
But Miliband is not that keen to align himself entirely with Hollande either – for the reasons given above – and his advisers have been telling people that Hollande is much more statist and left wing than the Labour leader. They also say the US provides a much better example of what stimulus can achieve than France, which is limited by being part of the eurozone, will.
So we have the curious spectacle of a Tory PM telling us how similar he is to a socialist president, while a Labour leader assures us of the opposite.
The other interesting moment of today’s PMQs was that Cameron finished with an attack on Jon Cruddas, the man appointed to run Labour’s policy review in place of Liam Byrne. The PM said:
This is the man who said Labour’s problem was that they weren’t close enough to the unions.
The Tories believe that by turning away from the Blairite Byrne, this marks a “lurch to the left”. But Labour believe they have misunderstood Cruddas, who played a key role in Blair’s Number 10 and backed David Miliband for the Labour leadership. He is more of the “Blue Labour” brand, believing that the UK needs to become less liberal, both economically and socially. He is also routinely described as “independent minded”, and Labour MPs believe he may be able to come up with some proposals that win some of the Tories’ core vote over to Labour. Chris Bryant, the Labour MP, tweeted afterwards:
Clearly some Tory MPs agree. Jesse Norman soon tweeted: