Labour attack lines on the Tories were laid out by Ed Miliband in prime minister’s questions today. Broadly they are that the Tories are untrustworthy and divided.
Ed Miliband’s questions on climate change reinforced these points. They are good attacks to go on and are corrosive for the government.
David Cameron only has himself to blame. He claimed earlier this week that he wanted to have an overall majority at the next election. No one thinks that is electorally possible. With a divided party after a hopeless European election result, he might well find it difficult to even keep enough seats to continue a coalition. That means Labour wins.
And dividing the Tories on climate change works. It’s good because it is where Miliband’s expertise lies as he was the minister responsible in the last government. Also it doesn’t just divide Cameron from the wider party, it divides him from his ministers. We all know how damaging having a divided cabinet was to John Major.
Miliband started by asking whether Cameron really still believed in climate change as he had said before the election. Cameron knew it was a trap and failed to answer the first time. He wanted to continue the not exactly fruitful discussion they were having on flood defences even though his integrity on flood defence spending had been sorely tried.
And, as Miliband remarked, the country was far more likely to believe the UK statistics authority account that spending had gone down, rather than the prime minister’s not altogether convincing assertions that it had gone up. Anyway this was a sideshow from the main game.
‘Will he (the prime minister) set out his views on manmade climate change?’
The second time the question was asked, Cameron realised he would have to be straight. He did believe it was a great threat, he said and he and the government were sorting it out. There was a green investment bank and a nuclear power station being built and the government had cut its own carbon footprint by 14 per cent. He said this twice which seemed quite pathetically little given the global scale of climate change, but hey ho if that was the best he had to offer … ‘Excellent,’ replied Miliband. ‘We are getting somewhere.’ And then he reminded Cameron of the fact that neither his environment secretary Owen Paterson nor his energy minister Michael Fallon believe in climate change.
‘The reason this matters is because there are people in the most important positions in your government going around questioning climate change. This is what the environment secretary says, ‘people get very emotional about this. People should just accept the climate has been changing for centuries’, and he refuses to be briefed on climate change.
‘The energy minister, when asked about climate change, said “You’re not going to draw me on that – I haven’t had time to get into the climate change debate”.’
Miliband finished off: ‘Is he happy to have climate change deniers in this cabinet?’ It was a win. Miliband had made his point and backed it up with facts. And he pointed out that Cameron was saying, this was an important issue and yet had made it an issue for individual cabinet ministers’ consciences.
It was an effective attack, too, because Cameron so often strives to be in control and demonstrate it with force. He almost speaks, I noticed again today, as if in bullet points. If he wants to say black is white all he has to do is say it loudly and convincing enough on a verbal PowerPoint presentation. It’s the Eton training.
His tone of voice though turned particularly sneering and insulting when he addressed Labour’s Luciana Berger (Liverpool Wavertree), who had asked about a young constituent who couldn’t find work and was reduced to scavenging though skips for food. Cameron finds women who challenge him so annoying that it brings out his particularly nasty side – not that he is very nice to women in the first place.
Apart from that, PMQs was dominated by Northern Irish politics, the Democratic Unionist party asking two questions about the mistaken dropping of the case against John Downey for the Hyde Park bombing.
Miliband, though, is on to a winner exposing the deep divisions within the Tories over climate change.
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
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