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Wednesday, December 01, 2010 

Prime minister's questions and how the "child of Thatcher" tag will stick.

Most of the comment on today's prime minister's questions has Cameron down as winning comfortably. The obvious points to make in response are that Cameron, when claiming that Britain was making one of the fastest recoveries in Europe, was riding on the back of Alistair Darling's policies while chancellor, not Osborne's. Alongside that he also resorted to one of the most dubious of lines perennially delivered by prime ministers when challenged on emergence from recession or the speed/strength of the economy, that by raising such queries the opposition is talking the recovery down. Moreover, while the line that he'd rather be a "child of Thatcher than a son of Brown" worked as a put down in the Commons, its efficacy is far more dubious outside the Westminster bubble. It will also be endlessly quoted back at him and feature on numerous placards over the months to come, shorn of the insult towards Ed Miliband.

Cameron's real weakness is that his performances simply don't have the gravitas or statesman-like quality you expect from a prime minister. He's carrying on as he did when he was facing Brown, where it was obvious that the two actively disliked each other and Cameron's aim was to make him thrash out blindly in anger and to then deliver the equivalent of a poke right between the eyes, epitomised by his repeated dismal of Brown's prepared soundbites. Using the exact same strategy when you're prime minister, saying Miliband couldn't even decide whether he was going to sit on the fence (completely unlike the Liberal Democrats, including Clegg, who abstained last night on the vote after the tuition fee debate while Vince Cable can't make up his mind if he's going to vote for his own policy) asking when he was going to start as opposition leader and deriding his last question as "not waving, but drowning", just comes across as arrogant, smarmy and patronising, especially when he didn't address Miliband's claim that he was complacent about people losing their jobs.

Some have questioned why Miliband didn't go with the other Wikileaked story about the Tories, which had Mervyn King describing Cameron and Osborne as inexperienced, thinking about issues only in terms of politics and their effect on Tory electability. The main reason is that Cameron would have simply thrown it back at him; after all, if they're inexperienced, what does that make Miliband, even if that contradicts the line of him being the son of Brown? He could then have led onto how King has in effect backed their position on the economy, and that they're making the difficult decisions while Miliband still has his "blank page". William Hague's quote, meant to impress upon the deputy head of mission at the US embassy how pro-American he and his party's leadership were, will have far more long-term effect than the governor of the Bank of England's analysis of the Tories prior to the election.

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