Knocking Cameron off his stride

When Miliband picks a subject now you realise that it is going to run for the rest of the week, and that Labour will be setting the agenda on it.

It may not be yet translated into personal Miliband points but it shows an ability to be in touch that will get harder and harder to dismiss.

And Miliband was showing today a mixture of tones, from sombre and respectful to a bit more knockabout, calling at one point on the arrayed Tory benches to stop groaning. These Miliband manoeuvres were about putting Cameron off his stride and they made Miliband look more the statesman today.

Especially as David Cameron went on and on about mopping up messes, so much so that you couldn’t help imagining him as a cleaner scrubbing out the loos. Is that really what we want from our prime minister?

Miliband kicked off on Syria. Was Britain, asked Miliband, going to take in its quota of refugees from Syria?

It was a good subject to go on. Labour MPs and lots of  Lib Dems and Tories, including the patrician Jacob Rees-Mogg, as well as Ukip leader Nigel Farage think we should be taking more Syrian refugees. Admittedly Farage and Rees-Mogg support admitting a few Syrians because they want to stop Rumanians and Bulgarians from coming to Britain.

Cameron didn’t like this one bit. He started blustering about how much money we were giving the international aid effort, about how we had one (!) Syrian child in a hospital here, how we had taken some asylum seekers  who had managed to get here under their own steam. ‘We are fulfilling all our obligations’ he kept repeating. It was a bureaucrat’s answer and Miliband knew it. So he pressed him. We should ‘set an example’ said Miliband. Take the quota the United Nations has asked us to. There was more bluster from Cameron. Some countries were ‘using the quota system to therefore say they were fulfilling their obligations’. Cameron was getting confused now.  Hadn’t he been saying a minute ago that we were fulfilling our obligations? ‘I feel we are inching forward on this issue’, said Miliband. Well they weren’t. All Miliband could wring out of Cameron was that he would consider a few needy Syrians on a case by case basis.

The other big question that Miliband brought up and that always comes up in one way or another at PMQs – especially when there are figures the government think are ‘good’ for the economy – is who is really benefiting from growth. Employment figures may be good today, said Miliband, which should be welcomed, but the average wage is down by £1600 a year.  Cameron started reeling off figures about how people were paying fewer taxes. But this was the Miliband reply: ‘All he does is show he is absolutely complacent. He is trying to tell millions of families they are better off when they are worse off’.

The other thing PMQs underlined was how not very loyal lots of the Tories are. There was a question from a Tory about the closure of Chase Farm accident and emergency and the associated death of a 2-year-old who was rushed there by mistake, and another from a Tory about why broadband had not been rolled out to 17 per cent of rural areas.

From the both leaders there were tributes paid to Del Singh, the Labour MEP candidate and aid worker who was killed last week in Kabul. And from some Labour MPs too like Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East) asked if we would continue to work in Afghanistan after the troops have left (the answer was yes). Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith and Fulham),  paid tribute to ‘my friend Del Singh who worked for peace and justice not least in Palestine and Afghanistan’. He went on to reveal that Tory-run Hammersmith and Fulham council were knocking down council housing and replacing them with exclusive private developments.

At home Labour MPs were concerned with food banks and food aid. Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) asked why a report on the food aid crisis in the UK which had been commissioned in February last year and given to ministers in the early summer had not been published. There was no answer to this. And there was more stone-walling to the question from Stephen Timms (East Ham) about the Trussel Trust, who run food banks and want to meet with Cameron.

But this PMQs belonged to Miliband who quietly asserted his right to be a statesman who has to be listened to, but who is also listening to what is going on in the country.

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Sally Gimson is a journalist, a Labour councillor, and reviews PMQs on Progress. She tweets @SallyGimson

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