What a barren pantomime they gave us today. We had David Cameron as a Prince Charming who is much too pleased with himself, and Ed Miliband as an Ugly Sister consumed with jealousy of anyone more attractive. Labour has not yet cast the part of Cinderella, but there is clearly a vacancy.
The script was lamentable. It consisted of an inconclusive haggle about NHS statistics. One can blame Miliband for introducing this subject, and sticking to it with dreary fidelity throughout his six questions. One of his many weaknesses is that he is frightened of talking about the economy, for fear of being crushed by a barrage of good news.
So the Leader of the Opposition had opted for the safer subject of the NHS. He recited some bad figures for waiting times. The Prime Minister responded in kind: he recited some good figures for waiting times. Both men did this several times over. Neither of them conveyed the slightest sense of knowing or caring what things are actually like inside the NHS. They colluded in the fiction that one can tell what is going on by looking at various sets of statistics.
In the sense that Miliband got nowhere, this was a victory for Cameron. And no doubt there was a kind of prudence in his decision to dare to be dull. He is wearing down the Opposition. This is a war of attrition for which he has stockpiled inexhaustible reserves of cliché, which have also been distributed for use by footsoldiers on the Tory benches.
One of these clichés is abbreviated in this column as Oltep, which stands for “Our Long-Term Economic Plan”. Michael Ellis (Con, Northampton North) said that thanks to Oltep, potholes are being mended. Cameron replied that “mending potholes is good for hard-working families”.
One trusts the next Conservative manifesto will carry, on its opening page, a summary for those too busy to read the entire work. Next to a photograph of Cameron will appear the words, “Mending potholes is good for hard-working families”. Let no one say the Prime Minister is unable to give a satisfactory account of his political beliefs.
This column will vote in May 2015 for whichever party promises to repeal the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act. For we now find ourselves condemned to ten more months of intolerably repetitive electioneering.
Every so often Cameron mocked the Labour benches for looking glum, and every so often they tried to cheer themselves up by engaging in a spot of class war against billionaires and the Bullingdon Club. But the truth is that the Tory front bench looked pretty glum too. Theresa May’s face was a study in exhausted despondence. It’s time for the holidays.