Wednesday, 15 June 2011

A win for one, but not a defeat for the other...

There’s always a gaggle of hacks around Gabby Bertin after PMQs, but today it expanded into a swarm that surrounded the Prime Minister’s spokeswoman.

That almost all the questions were about cancer patients’ stood testament to Ed Miliband’s fighting performance at PMQs, in which he managed to successfully dictate the course of the session. He chose a subject that was incredibly difficult for the PM to argue against, stuck to his lines and even improvised to make jeering Tory MPs look like the nasty party.

But while Cameron failed to turn the debate to questions around the Labour leadership, it is difficult to say he was “defeated” as such.

It is always hard to defeat an opponent at PMQs on the technicalities of a policy. And as long as Cameron puts his side of the technical argument forward while looking confident and without saying anything that cuts his wiggle room later, as he appeared to today, it will be difficult for Miliband to impose outright defeat – which broadly defined is when a leader embarrasses his opponent.

There may be people out there who don’t like that classification of defeat, who think it should be defined in terms of whether a person’s argument is more factual than their opponent’s.

But, right or wrong, PMQs doesn’t work like that. Victory in the bear-pit is a more visceral thing – a feeling of who came out on top.

There is another deeper issue here too. While more accomplished Miliband performances based on complaining about particular cuts, like today’s, will see the Labour leader cement his position and put pressure on the Government, they still come back to the argument on the economy.

That debate was won months ago after the Government managed to convince the country there was a big deficit and that cuts were necessary.

If it wants to argue against cuts Labour will still have to purge those demons wailing that they were in charge when the deficit was built and will have to be more specific about cuts they would make in the future.

For now though I don’t think Labour backbenchers will begrudge their leader a day to appreciate a much improved performance.

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