Political Promise

First Round To Miliband…Just

In Andrew Forsey on October 15, 2010 at 11:11 am

Andrew Forsey analyses Ed Miliband’s first appearance on Prime Minister’s Questions.

Having become accustomed to regular doses of Tony Blair wiping the floor with successive Tory leaders at PMQs, the past three years witnessed a somewhat gradual erosion of Gordon Brown’s leadership by David Cameron on Wednesday lunchtimes, as the Tory leader performed with an air of superiority over the Labour incumbent, consistently exploiting Brown’s weaknesses and, like Blair, toying with his opponent. As a Labour supporter, I naturally feared the worst as debutant Ed Miliband stepped up to the despatch box for his first duel with Cameron.

Therefore, I cannot begin to express the sheer surprise, delight and optimism that Ed Miliband has inspired in an unflappable display of composure, intelligence and calculation of Cameron. What’s more, Miliband immediately and unashamedly built on his Conference speech in attempting to speak for the ‘squeezed Middle’ over child benefits. Flanked by the reassuring presence of Alan Johnson and Harriet Harman, Miliband utilised the Cameroon trademark of reminding us who is meant to ask/answer the question, and repeatedly had Cameron tip-toeing around the issue in hand.

The bravado of Blair and the tribal baiting of Brown were consigned to the past as Miliband conversed with Cameron as if the rest of the Chamber had been vacated, barely raising his voice, and maintaining a pattern of polite, effective conversation on his terms. Cameron appeared to be taken aback by an opponent regarded as far less of a threat than his defeated leadership rivals; elder brother David, and ‘attack dog’ Balls. He quickly reverted to playing to his own MPs by trashing the Labour’s record, rather than defending his own government’s decisions. Miliband junior may prove unable to outperform Cameron, but on the evidence of today’s opening round, he possesses the ability to speak on behalf of the voters he wants to win back by 2015, in a reasonable, rational, and assertive manner.

As coalition ministers repeatedly inform us that the public wants to see more cooperation and working for the ‘national interest’ in British politics, Miliband’s performance provides early hope that Labour can renew itself as the party working to advance the interests of ‘the people’, and not of the bickering, egotistical Westminster establishment.

Nevertheless, if elections were won and lost on performances at PMQs, we would be living under a majority Tory government at the moment. Therefore, Miliband must now maintain his responsible, composed style of opposition, whilst constructing an attractive, credible alternative to what the coalition has to offer. It will be up to the likes of Balls, Burnham, Healey and Johnson to ruthlessly expose the coalition’s flaws, but Miliband must portray a sense of being above the tribalism, and repeat what we saw on Wednesday: a Labour leader providing a voice for lower-middle income families, as if it were they who were grilling Cameron.

On today’s strong performance, many of us who had feared the weekly prospect of Cameron v Miliband can now look forward with optimism to Labour’s next five years in opposition, as the party looks to lay the foundations for a winning election formula in 2015.

Round one goes to Miliband…just.

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