The last session of PMQs before recess today felt, in the words of one Twitter wit, like an “end of season clip show”. Both leaders played their greatest hits as they tried to buoy their troops ahead of the long break and remind the wider public of how they view each other.
For Ed Miliband, this was about tying in last night’s rebellion on House of Lords reform with the problems he’s had over the last few months with the Budget and the economy. The linking device wasn’t subtle (“House of Lords reform isn’t his main problem….”), but the attacks were effective, if not new.
We heard about the “tax cut for millionaires” (the end of the 50p top rate of income tax), paid for by a “tax on pensioners” (the end of preferential tax rates for pensioners), and to cap it all of, the “double-dip recession made in Downing Street”.
Miliband didn’t want to dwell on Lords reform itself, as his own party’s opposition to the programme motion was cynical and opportunistic. But it did at least afford him the best comeback of the session, when confronted with heckling of “Weak!” from the Tory benches:
What could be weaker than having 91 people from your own side vote against you?
Cameron’s greatest hits list was similarly well-worn: a cap on immigration, a cap on welfare, education reforms, increases in the NHS budget… Two things were striking about the list: firstly, it was full of right-wing goodies, presumably to placate his furious backbenches; secondly, it felt flat and ineffective compared with Labour attacks.
Miliband accused Cameron of going red as he got more flustered (a common attack-line) – the PM responded by branding Ed “Red Ed”. The problem for Cameron was this wasn’t even one of his greatest hits: this line of criticism has previously been ruled as ineffective by Number 10 – polls show Miliband comes across as odd, indecisive and weak, but most people don’t think of him as a dangerous lefty.
What a change from a similar end of term, last Christmas, when Miliband had perfect fodder to attack the PM after his EU “veto” had left Clegg and the Lib Dems spitting blood. On that occasion, Cameron slayed his opponent with a devastatingly simple put-down (“It’s not like we’re brothers or anything.”) This time, there was no knock-out blow.