Perhaps you needed to be there. But based on the clips I saw on the news, I cannot quite see why the broadcasters seemed to decide as one that Ed Miliband had a disastrous PMQs yesterday. The papers do not seem to share the view that this was a seismic event.
On one bulletin, I saw him make a perfectly good case that the central plank of the government’s economic strategy – that the private sector would fill the gaps left in the jobs market by cuts in the public sector – had failed. This on the day of figures showing a 17 year high in unemployment. David Cameron came back with his usual line about the ‘mess’ (sic) they inherited, without in any way dealing with the substance of the point – the private sector has indeed not filled the gap.
So the real ‘news’ aka comment that led to the orgy of Miliband-bashing, particularly across the BBC, came from the exchanges regarding Nick Clegg’s resumed position on the government front bench. I think we can safely assume that if Miliband had not mentioned the very public divisions between Cameron and Clegg, the same instant commenters would have been out saying he had ‘missed an open goal.’
So he asks them ‘what went wrong?’ and Cameron comes back and says ‘we’re not brothers’, and first Tory MPs, and then the Nick Robinson squad, go into an orgy of delight.
Now like I say above, sometimes being there can give a very different sense to the one that comes over on TV. But if I had been a member of the public watching, I think I would have seen the unemployment exchanges as being more significant, and I’m not sure I would have seen the ‘not brothers’ line as the blinding piece of wit those in the chamber seem to have judged it to be.
Newsnight, after an excellent discussion on phone-hacking – I hope Lord Leveson was watching – took as fact rather than comment that it had been a disaster for Ed, and interspersed its report with clips from a US comedy about a hapless young American who apparently looks a bit like him. To repeat – on the day unemployment hit a 17 year high.
So we are led to the conclusion that Ed is going through one of those phases where there is added currency in stories that do him down. All you can do in those circumstances is get through them, show the public you’re getting through them, and focus on the key issues and decisions in front of you.
On Leveson, we have seen a very good example of the way the modern media operates in the way parts of the press have reported the doubt over whether the News of the World deleted Milly Dowler’s text messages. Those who argue against regulation, and therefore want to do in Nick Davies of The Guardian, now seek to make the case that this was the central fact without which none of the current fuss would have happened. It is a manifestation of the state of denial that has characterised their approach from start to finish.
It was therefore good, when the laywer representing hacking victims said Milly Dowler’s voicemails were ‘not the only reason why this inquiry is being heard’ to hear Lord Leveson say ‘If anybody had any doubt about that, I anticipate that the last month has dispelled that doubt.’