What a very long PMQs today, presided over by a very bumptious John Bercow. The Speaker let the exchanges run into what he called ‘injury time’, made a rather poisonous jibe at Labour MP Fiona Mactaggart over her private schooling, and told the Prime Minister that as far as he was concerned, he had finished an answer when the PM didn’t believe he had.
As will increasingly be the case as we approach the general election, the two parties turned up wanting to talk about two different things. David Cameron wanted to talk about this week’s handy GDP figures, but Ed Miliband had decided to use this week’s select committee hearings on the Royal Mail as a way of not talking about growth at all. He was helped by Brian Binley’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ comments at the committee. So the Labour leader complained about the ‘rip off of the taxpayer’ of the privatisation, and David Cameron tried to link this to Labour’s past economic mistakes, complaining that he was having to take lectures from the party who had lost money selling the country’s gold. He then widened this Back to the Future attack to other ghosts of Labour past returning, such as the sons of former Cabinet ministers seeking election in 2015. Cameron wants to suggest to the public that Labour hasn’t changed a jot from the party it deserted in 2010. Ed Miliband wants to suggest that Cameron isn’t really listening to the public and is just keen on his cronies in the city.
But though the polling on Royal Mail backs up Miliband’s attack (the public didn’t like the idea of privatisation), his problem is not that Cameron does have plenty of good news to shout at him, but that the polling also suggests that the public remain suspicious of the ghosts of Labour’s past on the economy. He may find other government cock-ups over the next few months to talk about, but it will be difficult to avoid talking about the improving economy entirely.