Saturday, 14 July 2012

Don’t bet against Mr Miliband just yet.

Worryingly for the coalition, Ed Miliband is starting to look prime ministerial.

Less a policy wonk, more a future prime minister

Tony Blair called it the most stressful, nerve racking event of his political career. Some see it as unnecessary, at best a distraction, at worst a futile slanging match with no opportunity for real policy discussion. Others reckon its the most fascinating part of British politics, giving the astute viewer an insight into the battle between the prime minister and the leader of the opposition.

Prime Minister’s Questions, or PMQ’s as it is commonly referred to, has always divided opinion. While some may dismiss it as only of interest to those caught up in the Westminster bubble, a poor showing at the dispatch box, on either side of the house, can quickly transcend into fidgeting backbenchers and a lousy press.

So it proved for Mr Miliband. Narrowly elected over his more commanding brother, Mr Miliband managed to sneak through in the leadership contest with backing from the trade unions, despite his brother winning more votes from MPs.

Hence the labour leader has had to face accusations of being in the ‘pocket’ of special interest. Such claims were fully exploited by the Prime Minister, David Cameron, brandishing his opposite number as “Red Ed”.

Struggling to challenge the lucid and elusive Cameron, unable to face down claims of overt backing from unions and an appearance closer to that of policy wonk than prime minister, Labour big wigs and backbenchers alike found themselves wondering if they had ended up with the wrong brother.

What has followed has been nothing short of complete transformation. At the final PMQs before the recess, Ed Miliband embarrassed the coalition, displaying confidence and enjoying his time at the dispatch box. The BBC’s political editor, Nick Robinson, described the performance as “inconceivable a few months ago”.

This should worry the government and excite Labour. The public, up until recently, preferred Labour to the Tories, but Cameron to Miliband, such clear disparities are no longer apparent. Also, the government is dealing with its own internal squabbles. Backbench rebellion over House of Lords reform has exposed Cameron as inept at controlling his own party. The irony will not be lost on Mr Miliband

Yet the Labour leader should tread carefully. Voting for the principle of Lords reform only to vote against “the means by which it could be enacted” was branded as “utterly pathetic” by an unmistakably stirred prime minister.  

Cameron’s words may resonate with the wider public. While attempting to embarrass the government and oppose almost all legislation is part and parcel of the British parliamentary system, indeed, the very structure and formation of the House of Commons encourages it. (The incumbent sits directly opposite, provocatively facing the opposition party) The public are unlikely to thank Mr Miliband for helping to bring down a government at a time when stability is so highly valued. 

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