The Russians can keep shopping at Selfridges. This was the chief message to emerge from today’s exchanges at PMQs. Ed Miliband ventured to quote the tougher line taken by David Cameron as Leader of the Opposition in 2008, at the time of the invasion of Georgia: “Russian armies can’t march into other countries while Russian shoppers keep marching in to Selfridges.”
High office has sobered Cameron. No longer does he yearn to bar the Russian bear from the perfume counters where many an anxious Englishman is found in the days leading up to Christmas. When Vladimir Putin and his oligarchical friends find themselves short of a gift for a loved one, all Oxford Street remains at their disposal.
For Miliband also chose the path of statesmanship, or at least of commerce. Faced with a choice between standing shoulder to shoulder with Cameron, and demanding a crack down on the sale of luxury goods to the invaders of Crimea, the present Leader of the Opposition opted to play it safe. He too will allow the bear unimpeded access to this country’s department stores.
No backbencher from either side sought to denounce or mock the Cameron-Miliband pact. And one fears that Miliband himself was happy, even as he promised the Government “our full support” on Ukraine, to have used up his whole allocation of questions without for yet another week having touched on any aspect of economic policy apart from the Russians’ freedom to shop.
Nor did either the Labour leader or his backbenchers venture to touch on recent controversies to do with immigration. Miliband prefers to wait for Cameron to get things wrong: a passive attitude which makes the Labour leader look timid to the point of irrelevance.
This made PMQs easy for Cameron, and not especially illuminating for the rest of us. Tory backbenchers queued up to ask helpful questions about falling rates of youth unemployment and rising numbers of apprenticeships.
Oltep was as usual praised on every conceivable occasion by Cameron and his followers. It will be hard, we fear, to exclude this word from the next edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. Readers will there be able to confirm that although Oltep sounds like a brilliant adviser of Hungarian descent who has been drafted in to the Downing Street policy unit to lend it the intellectual excitement once supplied by Steve Hilton, the reality is more prosaic. Oltep, we are sorry to say, stands for “Our Long-Term Economic Plan”, which is the kind of slogan with which Lynton Crosby, the Tories’ present campaign manager, likes to drive his opponents mad.