You could read everything you needed to know about Ed Miliband’s PMQs performance on David Cameron’s face. By the sixth question, the prime minister was glowing red and roaring about how “he didn’t shirk his responsibilities”. There could be no doubt that the Labour leader had bested him.
Miliband’s decision to allow today’s disappointing GDP figures to dominate the opening exchanges was a good one. While the Westminster village might be feeling borderline hysterical at the goings-on at the Leveson Inquiry today and the possibility that the culture secretary’s scalp could be up for grabs, almost everyone else in the country will be more concerned with the fact the UK has now returned to recession.
The prime minister had little to come back on. He admitted that “these are very disappointing figures. I don’t seek to excuse them, I don’t seek to explain them away” before re-emphasising everything the government is trying to do to encourage growth. Interestingly, he chose not to bring out his well-worn “we inherited a terrible mess from Labour” line, instead insisting that there was no complacency in the government when it came to the economy.
This humble tone didn’t last long once Miliband switched the focus on to the revelations made to the Leveson Inquiry about Jeremy Hunt’s involvement in the BskyB bid. Cameron’s refusal to comment so as not to “pre-judge” the outcome of the inquiry rang more than a little hollow – it smacked of an attempt to hide behind the inquiry’s independence rather than tackle the issue head-on.
The master-stroke of what was a very good all-round performance from Miliband came when he succeeded in separating the issue of Jeremy Hunt’s integrity as a minister from the indepdence of the Leveson Inquiry. “If the prime minister can’t defend his ministers, they should be out of the door,” he said, while Cameron’s temperature visibly rose.
Phrases from the Labour leader like the “shadow of sleaze”, “arrogant posh boys” and “cronies” pushed Cameron over the edge. “The culture secretary has my full support!” he roared. “I don’t duck duck my responsibilities. It is a pity that Miliband is ducking his.”
Jeremy Hunt will face tough questions from backbenchers when he makes his statement shortly. While he might have the PM’s ‘full support’, it’s clear that the only winner in the chamber so far today is Ed Miliband.