14 October 2010


Encouraging media reaction to Prime Ministers' Questions yesterday, where the consensus was that Ed Miliband did better than DaveCam... estimates of the magnitude of his superiority on Twitter ranged from "a points victory" (Andrew Rawnsley) to "Ed Mili beat Cameron by a mile" (the New Statesman's Mehdi Hasan). Even some of the right-wing blogs (e.g. Spectator) reckoned Ed did better than Dave.

The amazing thing seems to be the level of surprise about this: did they really think Ed was that bad, or Dave that good? Anyone who saw any of Ed's speeches on the (interminable) Labour leadership campaign, or any public speech or interview he gave between 2005 and 2010, will know that the guy is no duffer when it comes to making a point. For example I remember a Newsnight interview in the summer of 2005 - just after Ed had become the MP for Doncaster - where he destroyed Philip Hammond (then Shadow Chief Sec to the Treasury) on the flat tax (George Osborne's first big idea - expect to see it pulled out of the bag again if the Tories win in 2020). I actually thought Ed was good without being spectacular: he's still pretty nervous at this stage, but I think that's just inexperience. It'll be good to see how he's doing 6 months into this job.

Meanwhile, I always thought Dave was a smooth and slick operator at PMQs but not as brilliant as many others seem to think. He's had a relatively easy ride at the despatch box since becoming Tory leader. First he had 18 months of the fag-end of Tony Blair, who was getting mighty bored of proceedings by then (to be fair to Blair, in his early days as leader he was a brilliant at PMQs), followed by one of the easiest targets in Labour history in the shape of Gordon Brown. Brown can be a brilliant set-piece speaker (any Labour conference speech before about 2004, or his London Citizens speech on the last weekend of the election campaign for example) but working interactively in a format like PMQs, he's mostly appalling. Again I'd say that Cameron is good, but not great, as a speaker. So really they are pretty evenly matched - and given the amount of shit that is going to hit the fan as the spending review leads to the near-collapse of many public services, Ed is gonna have better material to work with.

I must confess that I don't always watch PMQs as - like Question Time - I find it a little knockabout for my tastes. But despite its flaws it is a useful piece of the parliamentary calendar - I'm always struck by the number of political commentators from the US who wish they could have a weekly "President's Questions", although of course one unusual feature of the US political system is that there is no "leader of the opposition" except for about 3 months every 4 years during the presidential campaign. So they would have to do it slightly differently. But anyway, nice to see Ed doing well, and hopefully he will only improve from here.

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