By Matthew Barrett
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There's no two ways about it, Ed Miliband had an easy target. The Coalition looks like it is spending time debating an issue of little relevance to the majority of the country. Not only that, but the Coalition is divided about it.
David Cameron did not have a good day at the office, while a relaxed Mr Miliband put in probably the best performance I can remember. The two events are obviously related, because Mr Miliband's usual standards cannot touch an on-form Cameron. Mr Cameron got off on the wrong foot: the Commons acted as if it hadn't noticed that he'd entered the Chamber.
Ed Miliband started his questioning by bringing up an old quote of Cameron saying he wanted to become Prime Minister because "I think I'd be good at it". "Where did it all go wrong", Miliband asked. Cameron read out a list. The Government was cutting taxes for the low paid, increasing spending on the NHS, cutting the deficit, and so on. As the Tory benches cheered, Miliband said the backbenches were well whipped today – it's a shame they weren't last night. The Prime Minister had lost control of his party, and not for the first, Miliband said. Miliband also brought up the Jesse Norman affair – the Prime Minister had lost his temper, and there had been "fisticuffs in the Lobby", Miliband said, before noting Norman was absent, and saying the "posh boys" must have ordered him out of Parliament.
Cameron replied by saying Miliband was "pathetic" for relying on "half-baked gossip". Cameron then switched to serious mode saying that for Lords reform to pass, reformers must vote for it. They should not, as Miliband had planned, vote against the motion to limit debate, but vote for the Bill itself. Miliband replied by saying the Prime Minister was blaming others for his own party's lack of discipline. Miliband further said all of Cameron's troubles began with his Budget, which gave a tax cut to millionaires. Cameron responded by saying it also cut taxes for the low paid, and, in any case, the current 45p top rate is higher than it ever was under Labour.
The questions between the two party leaders descended into Cameron yet again reading out Gordon Brown-style lists – one of his worst habits when backed into a corner. "The redder he gets, the less he convinces people", Miliband said. The constant list-reading "just shows how out of touch he is", and he's not just losing the confidence of his party, but of the country, Miliband said.
Cameron responded with "the only thing that's red around here is Red Ed". He then read out another list of things Ed Miliband had done or said to make him "red".
Two backbench questions of note:
- Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot) tried to ask a question about education… but was so drowned out by noise from around the House that she had to shout the question at the top of her voice.
- Adam Afriyie (Windsor) asked whether the two governing parties would review the Coalition Agreement, since new issues are emerging for the Government to face. Cameron sounded receptive, but his answer did not reveal much: "In a Coalition you need to keep working out the next set of things you want to achieve. I'm committed to making sure we now look at all the next steps we need to take to make our country a better place"
- Labour MP Emily Thornberry asked whether George Osborne should apologise for wrongly accusing Ed Balls of improper action towards Libor. Cameron did not back away from Osborne's claims, and insisted Balls still has questions to answer