(A technical wizard has somehow found the blog that flew into the ether as I was heading to make a speech and present manufacturing industry awards in Ironbridge … here it is)
TB’s book got a fresh wave of publicity yesterday with several of the telly people reading out his colourful description of the nightmare of Prime Minister’s Questions – bowel-moving indeed! – as Ed Miliband made his debut.
If he was as nervous as TB was the first time he did it – very very – he didn’t really show it. When TB was PM, he was especially nervous when a new Tory leader came along for his first effort – he got through a few – and David Cameron seemed a little unsure of himself. I don’t know what else was going on in his diary yesterday, but I sensed he hadn’t prepared as thoroughly as he normally does.
In any event, most people seemed to give the verdict to Ed, which will be a boost to him, and to Labour’s morale.
PMQs really matter. They matter for the mood they set. They matter above all for the arguments they expose. I can say with some certainty that the strategic battlefield for successive elections was in large part dictated by the arguments that worked or failed in PMQs, and by the strengths and weaknesses of the main players as they were revealed in these jousts.
To some, they are a shouting match. My Mum is visiting us at the moment, and she did her usual ‘look at them yelling at each other like kids’ when we watched it on the news last night. But to the political world, they are a strategic anvil, and if anything have become more important not less as the media age has developed.
Ed clearly did better than the Tories expected him to and the government benches looked a bit gloomy by the end of proceedings. You can be absolutely sure the Tory whips will have the volume cranked to full blast next time round. The secret there is to remember that even if you cannot hear your own voice, the public can. Once TB latched on to that, his confidence grew.
Ed showed calm, confidence and strength and can take special pleasure in seeing Cameron get his needled look. Not a bad day’s work.
As for the strategy that emerged, Cameron intends never to miss the chance to blame Labour for the difficult and unpopular decisions the government will be taking. Ed has to make sure it wears thin pretty quickly, not least by reminding people of something they sense instinctively – that the economic crisis was rather more complicated than ‘it’s all Labour’s fault.’
Ed went on plans to scrap child benefit for top rate tax-payers, perhaps easier for Labour at this stage than student fees. But he knows he cannot just get up week after week and have a go about cuts. He can do that pretty often. But I hope he also finds an early opportunity to ask Cameron to save money somewhere – ending charitable status for private schools might be an idea – to show that Labour intend not only to capitalise on Tory-Lib cuts, but also to set out how they would make some of the difficult choices coming down the track.