Easy triumphs soften victors. Cameron demonstrated this truism today as he took two unexpected blows from Ed Miliband at PMQs. The Labour leader led on his new policy of rent controls. Cameron, rather weakly, seemed amenable to the reform but offered no concrete proposals of his own. Miliband struck.
‘That was a pretty quick U-turn, even for him.’
Miliband then asked about the preparations to surrender AstraZeneca, trussed and bound, to Pfizer – with all the attendant risks to jobs and investment.
Cameron flushed as red as a rhubarb crumble and accused Miliband of ‘playing politics’ while the government was ‘getting stuck in’ and defending the national interest.
What irked him was that the Pfizerisation of AstraZeneca has become yet another area where Miliband poses as a popular champion. Labour presents itself as the plucky foe of Big Pharma, while the government fiddles at the margins or connives with the fatcats.
Same with rent controls.
Miliband’s reforms sound reasonable and modest: extend tenancies from one year to three. Make rent rises predictable not arbitrary. Result: nine million home-renters benefit.
Cameron gave the impression that he endorsed this reform by claiming that the proposal had been aired at last year’s Tory conference. (So why keep it quiet till now?). But he couldn’t pledge his definitive support. Instead he spoon-fed candy floss to his backbenchers by joking that Labour policies were ‘for rent’ by Unite. And he quoted some contradictory noises-off by ill-briefed Labour MPs. But that didn’t alter the fact that Cameron seemed too ready to underestimate his opponent today. And his performance was misfiring badly. Slapdash on rent controls. Furious on Pfizer.
The ghost of Ukip made a late appearance. Tory whips had cast about for a willing foot soldier to ask Cameron to enlarge on Kippers’ xenophobia. The first name out of the hat belonged to Sir Tony Baldry. As soon as he stood up the blunder was obvious. Sir Tony takes up as much space as three ordinary parliamentarians. And besides having a waistline like a cooling tower, he also has Pink Floyd hair, a foppish lisp and a knighthood. And he wears a three piece suit. Hardly the epitome of progressive modern Toryism. He asserted that Ukip’s policies are based on the fear of foreigners. (You can do the lisps yourself). He ordered us to embrace foreign markets because Britain is ‘a great trading nation’ – another 18th century touch.
Keith Vaz, unwittingly, introduced the same topic. When he got to his feet he received the House’s ritual acknowledgement of his presence: dead silence.
Pudding seemed to be weighing heavily on Vaz’s mind as he complained that a cabal of EU fruit-cakes, the mango quango, have banned imports of Indian arboreal produce to Europe. The crackdown threatens the profits of curry-houses in Leicester, and beyond. And Vaz’s fan-base of restaurateurs fears millions in lost dessert revenues are at risk. Would Cameron bring it up with the leader of India?
Certainly, said Cameron. But what a waste of breath. They’ve picked the wrong honcho. Only the leader of the EU Commission has the authority to reverse an EU ban. And only the leader of Ukip has the desire to do so.