By Harry Phibbs
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The media were more interested in a later encounter today with David Cameron and Ed Miliband to see if agreement can be reached on press regulation. It would seem unlikely as Mr Miliband has been keen to trumpet his credentials of "taking on Murdoch" and "standing up to the press barons."
However it was a lively Prime Minister's Questions which saw a confident performance by the Labour leader.
Mr Miliband started with a rather good joke about the minimum alcohol pricing U-turn:
"Can the Prime Minister tell us if there is anything that he could organise in a brewery?"
I suppose his gag writer John O'Farrell is no longer distracted by the Eastleigh byelection. Anyway it gave Mr Miliband a great psychological boost. His supporters roared, the Tory benches were subdued.
Mr Miliband didn't tell us whether or not he supported minimum pricing. But then he didn't need to.
Later on there was another joke after some comments about manufacturing:
"Never mind car producton it's taxi for Cameron after that answer."
That wasn't such a good one. But it didn't matter. The brewery gag gave Ed the mojo.
There was some reciprocal needling between the leaders over being undermined by their colleagues. Mr Cameron was teased about being "overruled" by Theresa May over minimum alcohol pricing.
Reference was made to Michael Gove having reportedly criticised Mrs May promoting her leadership ambitions. David Cameron then made a reference to the Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls. These were all easy targets – although Mr Miliband had the advantage of greater topical salience. Then there was Mr Miliband question as to whether the Business Secretary Vince Cable was "speaking for the Government" which struck me as reasonable.
Mr Cameron got across some solid points – especially citing the Institute of Fiscal Studies estimate that borrowing under Labour would be £200 billion higher.
The Office of Budgetary Responsibility says that borrowing under Labour would be £200 billion higher.
There was a strong passage about Mr Miliband diary beng full of engagements with far left union leaders:
"Dinner after dinner. Dinosaur after dinosaur. They pay the money. They
get the policies, but it's the country who pays the price."
Mr Miliband question as to whether the Business Secretary Vince Cable was "speaking for the Government" was reasonable.
In terms of challenges that were about policy rather than knock about it was Dr Sarah Wollaston who made most impact. She gave a plea for the minimum alcohol pricing not to be abandoned. Mr Cameron said "there is a problem of 20p cans of lager for sale in supermarkets and I am absolutely determined to deal with it." We wil have to see what actually happens.
Towards the end of the session Mr Cameron manged to rouse the Tory
benches by reading a spoof letter "Ed from Camden" about how he had
gained a £2 million house through property speculation and inheritance
but was worried about how much Stamp Duty he would face paying. Mr
Cameron then added a joke about "Champagne Socialist" which rallied the
Tory benches no end. That was important as the verdict on these occasions is decided by the noise levels.
Yet the sense that many Tory MPs are unhappy with the direction the government is taking, that they are expecting to lose the next election and are already focussed on who will replace David Cameron as the next leader offered an opportunity to Mr Miliband to sore some easy points which he did effortlessly.