By Joseph Willits
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Despite news of high levels of unemployment this morning, and the continuous stories of splits in the Coalition, the House of Commons was in festive cheer, and it was David Cameron who benefitted the most from it.
Unlike last week, where Ed Miliband decided to break up his questions, in turn taking the wind out of his sails, the Labour party leader asked 6 in a row. Miliband had the option to focus straight away on a divided Government, Clegg's impotence, and the EU treaty vote, but instead attacked the Government on unemployment.
Today's Cameron/Miliband exchanges had an air of nostalgia about them. Miliband recalled the Prime Minister's New Year message who had said that "uppermost in my mind is jobs", and that since January youth unemployment had increased by 93%. Miliband repeated claims made in previous exchanges that Cameron was "breaking his promise" and "betraying a generation of young people". Cameron was given the opportunity by Miliband to speak frankly about unemployment:
"Any increase in unemployment is bad news and a tragedy for those involved and that is why we will do everything we can to get people back into work. Since the election there have been, in the private sector there have been 58100 extra jobs, in the public sector he is right, we have lost 336,000 jobs.
Again using comments made by David Miliband, who "admitted the other day that youth unemployment was not a problem invented by this government", Cameron said he wouldn't be taking "lectures form a party that put up youth unemployment by 40%".
David Miliband (who was incidentally not present at today's PMQ's) was also enough to lift the spirits of a rather glum looking Clegg. He may not have expected the applause and cheers from MPs (as Paul Waugh noted, Lib Dem members) this morning, but was probably awaiting Miliband's "good to see the Deputy Prime Minister" in the Commons jibe. Cameron responded:
"No one in this house is going to be surprised that Conservatives and Liberal Democrats don’t always agree about Europe but let me reassure him he shouldn’t believe everything he reads in the papers. It’s not that bad, it’s not like we’re brothers or anything!"
Splits in the coalition were easy pickings for the Labour leader, but Miliband's attempts to conjure up images of a turbulent Cameron-Clegg bromance were not enough to give him any kind of PMQs advantage:
"I think our sympathy is with the Deputy PM. His partner goes on a business trip, he hears nothing until a rambling phone call at 4am confessing to a big mistake. In the cold light of day, isn’t the sensible thing for him to do to re-enter the negotiations and try and get a better deal for Britain."
Cameron's quips may have "got him through PMQs again" according to Kevin Maguire, playing on the fact that opinion polls have not been so kind to Miliband, but Miliband responded without any bite. Cameron said that Miliband had "completely united his party, every single one of them has asked Santa for the same thing – a new leader for Christmas".
Miliband neither plagued Cameron with pressing questions about unemployment, possessed a comic sharp flair to fan the flames of divisions in the Coalition, nor came up with a response to the EU treaty veto. The Labour party will await with baited breath whether "weakness" and "indecision" will still remain the PMQs buzzwords for 2012.