PMQs: the story gets lost in details

Written by Total Politics has a free weekly Friday email bulletin. Follow this link to register. on 9 November 2011 in Diary
Do you like statistics? Then this was week’s bunfight was for you

Ed Miliband usually likes to go for a detailed question at Prime Minister’s Questions. Something that will fox the prime minister and make him look like he is not on top of things. Today, the Labour leader went for broad brush in his six questions, all of which were on immigration. It did not come off as well as he hoped.

We’ve previously seen David Cameron transmogrify into Gordon Brown to berate Labour for ‘talking down the economy’. Today he again took on a Brownite tactic and chanted facts and attack points. Lots of them. The PM had berated Labour’s record in government – “trebled immigration, let 2.2m million people into our country, allowed everyone from Eastern Europe to enter with transitional controls....”. In answer to another, he claimed that arrests for firearm offences at our borders had risen “by 100 per cent”.

It wasn’t as if Ed Miliband wasn’t attacking Cameron but there needed to be more detail than “It’s just not good enough”. In a he said/she said battle as we are currently seeing over border checks, you need to plot a clear line of where and how the government has been incompetent, not to be trusted, negligent etc. Miliband’s abandonment of his detailed, forensic approach was the wrong choice this week. If Brodie Clark didn’t have such a distinctive name, everyone would be struggling to follow what went on.

Considering its importance, our MPs were slow to reach the eurozone crisis as topics for their questions. Instead, FIFA’s decision to ban the football team from wearing poppies on their shirts raised much ire. It wasn’t until the end of the 30-minute session that the PM was even asked about Europe. But we got a mini-rush at the end. Bill Cash, who had combed his hair for this occasion, reminded us all of Geoffrey Howe’s famous cricketing analogy in his 1990 resignation speech. The 2011 Cash remix featured the idea that if the prime minister went to renegotiate our relationship with Europe he “won’t be sent in with a broken bat, he would be sent in with a new bat with a united team behind him”.

Cameron wisely avoided tackling the Conservatives’ uniquely tortured relationship between our national summer sport and Europe and thus ended a session that failed to deal with of the big questions facing our country. It also failed to harm the embattled home secretary. For that, we await Brodie Clark’s appearance in front of the home affairs select committee next week.

Tags: Bill Cash, Border agency, Brodie Clark, David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Europe, Eurozone, Immigration, PMQs

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