David Cameron greatly regrets that the Government has failed to reach agreement on a relaxation of the foxhunting ban. That, he implied, is the Lib Dems for you: people with no understanding of field sports, or even of the need to protect Welsh lambs.
But this does not leave the Tories with nothing to hunt. They can always fall back on their traditional sport of hunting the leader of the Labour Party. Keir Hardy, Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson, Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock are among the Labour leaders they have enjoyed hunting over the years.
Ed Miliband is their current quarry. The trouble with him is that just now, he is not providing very good sport. It is possible, of course, that he is just being cunning: that by looking so weak, he will encourage his pursuers to become over-confident. Perhaps Miliband will one day lead them onto treacherous ground, where their horses get stuck, and they realise too late that Labour does after all have some formidable policies, to which there is not enough time to devise formidable replies.
But just now, Miliband looks weak, and this has the effect of making Cameron look unsporting. Passers by are quite often shocked by the sight of a group of Tory toffs, in the special dark suits which they wear for this so-called sport, tearing limb from limb a defenceless Labour leader whose only fault is to want to become Prime Minister. There is no point in dismissing these passers by as suburban sentimentalists with no understanding of the harsh realities of politics as a blood sport. The dismembering of a Labour leader is not, one has to admit, a pretty sight, and spectators are liable to forget how necessary it is. For when Labour gets its hands on the British economy, it leaves it in the state a fox leaves a hen house.
Cameron today was brutal. He said of Miliband’s own MPs: “They shout about him in support in here and then they brief against him outside.” He said of Miliband himself: “He is is flailing around, a man with no plan and increasingly no future.”
And when Steven Pound (Labour, Ealing North) attempted to make something of the tactless Tory Budget poster about “beer and bingo”, Cameron just turned the attack back on Miliband: “I’m sure that the honourable gentleman sitting opposite enjoys a game of bingo. It’s the only time he ever gets close to Number Ten.”
Pound could be seen laughing as heartily as anyone else at this cruel jibe. Cameron had walked all over Miliband. He was careful not to walk all over the Labour women MPs who challenged him: for he knows that he makes a poor impression when he does that, and is dismissed by some members of the public as an unspeakable cad.
David Winnick (Labour, Walsall North) was enraged by Cameron’s performance: “As the Prime Minister’s so keen on boasting…why is it that a Cabinet made up of so many multi-millionaires are so indifferent to the needs of people who are the most vulnerable in our society?”
Cameron allowed himself to sound and perhaps even to be angry: “I remember sitting on that side of the House when Labour gave pensioners a 75 pence increase. Don’t think we haven’t forgotten about that.” The double negatives in that last sentence cancel each other other, so that strictly speaking, the remark means “We have forgotten”. But Cameron’s meaning was clear enough. He had walked all over Winnick too. The Prime Minister is just now in a very confident mood.