In which I set out why today's PMQs was more revealing than it looked..
Ed Miliband won today's PMQs handily, as I suspect we will see in tonights news bulletins and tomorrow's sketches.
Miliband won because he neatly linked the now satire-friendly comments of David Cameron's early hubris to the Prime Ministers's current lack of control over both his government agenda and his party.
Miliband also found a way to move the debate about the failure of the Government to win a vote over Lords reform to the, electorally more significant, ground of the Coalition's failure to deliver economic growth.
Forced onto the back foot over his exposed weaknesses, and unable to engage coherently in an argument about the House of Lords, Cameron responded by attempting to turn the focus back on Labour.
This sounded out of place and defensive in the Commons, but I wouldn't be surprised if it reflected Tory thinking on what their future Election campaign might look like.
Do a bit of cut and paste of the Prime Minister's replies to Ed Miliband today, add a top and tail, and you get something like the following:
"The last few years have been tough.
So we’ve taken tough decisions.
This Government has capped benefits, capped immigration, taken 2 million people out of tax, cut taxes for 25 million people, cut the fuel duty, increased spending on the NHS and cut the deficit by 25% in two years.
We have a top rate of tax which is higher than any of the time Labour were in government.
It’s not been easy, but we’ve been able to increase pensioners’ weekly income by £5.30—the biggest increase in the pension’s history and increase spending on the NHS.
As a result of these choices, we got 800,000 more private sector jobs.
Inflation is down, unemployment is down, and interest rates are at a record low.
We are now a net exporter of cars for the first time since 1976.
We have completed the biggest construction project in Europe, which is for the Olympics, and we have started the next biggest project, which is Crossrail.
This Government set up the enterprise zones, backed the apprenticeships, and are seeing business rebalance in this country.
How does this compare with what the country was left by the Labour party?
The biggest bust, the most indebted households, and the biggest budget deficit in Europe, and never once an apology for the mess that it left this country in.
They were bailing out eurozone countries with taxpayers’ money, they were paying £100,000 for just one family’s housing benefit, and they presided over uncontrolled welfare, uncontrolled immigration and uncontrolled Government spending.
Never has so much been borrowed, never has so much been wasted, and never have so many people been let down.
This country will never forgive the Labour Government for what they did.
Now the same crew are asking for a chance to do it again.
You can’t risk another Labour Government.
I don't think this sounds convincing now, with recession still around us, but I think it is stronger than some Labour strategists assume, especially if the economy shows weak signs of growth.*
I wouldn't be at all surprised if this was the potential election narrative that Andrew Cooper is working on in Downing Street.
I suspect hearing it set out so directly was one of the reasons the Tory press operation thought they'd won PMQs. (and also why the rest of us knew Cameron had lost (If he'd been winning, he wouldn't have had to use his big narrative to escape).
If this is the direction the Tories are thinking about for attacking Labour and defining their recovery, there are good suggestions on how to avoid such an onslaught from smart Labour and non-Labour sources alike, so I'll consider these in my next post.
Addendum: One thing the Tories really need to change is their 'Red Ed' tag. It might work if Labour really had embraced a left position, and who knows if it might get traction when our manifesto comes out, but right now it just sounds forced. They were doing a lot better with 'Blank Piece of Paper'.
One wag has suggested to me that they try to turn George Osborne's faux pas of incorrect allegations and their inability to link Ed Miliband to Gordon Brown, to their advantage by branding Ed Miliband as 'The man who wasn't there'.
I don't think that quite works (who gets the reference?), but it's better than 'Red Ed'.
(I say all this in the comforting knowledge that having said it, the Tories cannot now steal it!)
* It is also, I hope I don't really need to say, palpable nonsense.