England & Wales

Ed Miliband’s first PMQs


Today’s PMQ’s contained all the usual pledges from the PM and Leader of the Opposition to “end Punch and Judy” politics. But, half an hour later, I’m disappointed to tell you that we have not entered the Post Punch and Judy Politics Era (PPJPE). It was every bit as bad tempered as usual. An extra bit of interest, however, was provided by the two new contenders sizing one another up. If you’ve seen two dogs in a park, you’ve got the rough idea.

The two gladiators joined battle over the weighty issue of “who asked the questions”. You’d assume the name of the event would be sufficient to clear this puzzle up. But, au contraire, they managed to get a good five minutes out of it. Indeed this exchange gave Miliband his strongest moment. He told the PM, who had asked him why he thought the poorest members of his constituency should pay for his child benefit, that it was he who asked the questions. Cue howls of derision.

All very amusing. But the quality of this debate again exposed some serious concerns about the value of this weekly ritual. The question of why families where one person earns £43,000 will lose out while a household with two working parents earning £88,000 won’t be affected is a serious question of fairness. However, it can also be defended. The Treasury insisted that any change must be simple to admininister. Fairness was a secondary consideration. Whether or not this trade-off is worth making is another question. But what’s certain is that we’d all be better served by having that debate, not engaging in the usual political point scoring.

Having said all that, I’m not sure it matters. As the LGiU has found out, some of the most productive work in councils occurs in the scrutiny committees. I’m sure that the same can be said about Select Committees in Westminster. Let’s hope these bodies get the powers and status they deserve (a Lib Dem pledge before the election).