Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Mr. Miliband's first PMQs

Some nerviness before your first Prime Minister's Questions as leader is understandable, and an uneasy performance from Ed Miliband would have been more than forgivable. However, Mr. Miliband seemed neither nervous nor uneasy at his first PMQs as Labour leader, in fact, his questions were measured and clever, his delivery was smooth and he actually had some genuinely funny jokes. David Cameron however seemed rather uncomfortable at times, and was often unable to give a clear response to questions from the Leader of the Opposition. Even the Father of the House, Conservative MP Sir Peter Tapsell, complimented Mr. Miliband on his performance.

Fortunately for the Prime Minister, and unluckily for Mr. Miliband, the media gave near blanket coverage to the extraordinary rescue of the 33 miners from the San José Mine in Chile. During the rescue, Mr. Cameron telephoned the President of Chile, Sebastián Piñera, to congratulate him. The Prime Minister really should have also thanked the President for rescuing the miners on the same day he was trounced at PMQs, thus pushing Mr. Miliband's success off tomorrow's front pages.

Ed Miliband always has next week's PMQs to get the media's attention, although I suspect victory will be a bit more difficult next time - Mr. Cameron will want to learn from today's defeat and make sure he is ready for his next meeting with Mr. Miliband.

Of course, the importance of PMQs for those outside the Westminster bubble is rather insignificant. When William Hague was Leader of the Opposition, he frequently defeated Prime Minister Tony Blair in debates across the despatch box, but he then lost the 2001 general election in a landslide. Mr. Hague once described PMQs as "exciting, fascinating, fun, an enormous challenge and, from my point of view, wholly unproductive in every sense."

One thing PMQs does do is give a sense of the personality of the party leaders. Today Mr. Miliband seemed calm, cool, clever and funny. The big test for a successful leader is whether they seem 'Prime Ministerial'. In my opinion, I don't think Mr. Miliband did that today, but this was mainly due to the fact that he wasn't the guy answering the questions.

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