By Andrew Gimson
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David Cameron got too shouty too soon. Just as one may become enraged by the mere sight of an insect which one knows is going to try to bite one, so Mr Cameron at once got infuriated with Ed Miliband. The Prime Minister was determined to squash the Leader of the Opposition, and for this purpose had come equipped with a rhetorical bludgeon. The first question, by Rushanara Ali (Lab, Bethnal Green and Bow), concerned the deficit. Mr Cameron raised his bludgeon high in the air and brought in crashing down on Mr Miliband's head. He denounced him for Labour's newly revealed decision not to reverse the Government's cut in child benefit for higher earners: Labour was now in "total and utter confusion and perhaps he can explain himself when he gets to his feet".
The second question, from Douglas Carswell (Con, Clacton), was about the recall of MPs: Mr Carswell does not want "politicians sitting in judgement on politicians". Mr Cameron disagreed as politely as possible with Mr Carswell and took a second swipe at Mr Miliband: "But on the subject of recall I hope the Leader of the Opposition will recall his attack on child benefit when he gets to his feet."
The attack was too clearly diversionary to act as a genuine diversion. As an attempt to pre-empt whatever Mr Miliband might wish to ask the Prime Minister about, it was too crude. The Tory benches looked glum. Their man had shown a commendable desire to beat the enemy's brains out, but had not actually managed to do so.
Mr Miliband proceeded to challenge the Prime Minister about the National Health Service, and especially about waiting times in accident and emergency departments. The Labour leader's attack was no more subtle than Mr Cameron's had been. Here too we saw the use of a bludgeon when a rapier might have been more effective.
The spectacle was as unsatisfactory as watching a Punch and Judy show in which the blows struck by the two puppets fail to connect with each other. Mr Miliband continued to belabour Mr Cameron's record on health, while Mr Cameron went on clobbering Mr Miliband's U-turn on child benefit. By the end, the Prime Minister was accusing his opponent of conducting more U-turns than in a Grand Prix, though we are not aware there are any U-turns in that sport.
Tory backbenchers might have been more heartened if Mr Cameron had ridiculed the Leader of the Opposition: had congratulated him for realising, after only three years' thought, that the Government had made the right decision on child benefit. For what Mr Miliband has done is a belated compliment to George Osborne, and the way to embarrass him is to welcome him as a new if not especially quick-witted supporter.