The Tories were interested in sex at prime minister’s questions today and Labour with character and decency. One Tory member of parliament suggested that if people voted Labour after the election we might end up in bed with Alex Salmond rather than Nigel Farage. Anna Soubry, the posh and sweary Tory MP lounged in the back row shouting ‘Oooh.’ Cameron hooted, ‘Who knows who you could wake up in bed with.’

But Cameron, more a bully than a lothario, prefers humiliation. Miliband, he said, would ‘crawl into Downing Street on the coattails of the SNP.’ It was traditional public school fare and you expected the odd bread roll to be hurled, but it was part of the end of term feel in the House of Commons. Several MPs reminded us there were only two more sessions to go before the election.

The speaker of the house, like some poor schoolmaster who is rather looked down on by his posher pupils, tried to keep order. At one point when it was getting particularly rowdy after a question from Miliband he had to ask Michael Gove to behave: ‘The Government chief whip shouldn’t be smirking about it, it is not a laughing matter,’ he admonished.

Miliband’s contribution to the performance was to ask again and again why Cameron was chicken and not prepared to have a head to head television debate.

‘It’s about character,’ he said. ‘Why doesn’t he show a bit more backbone and turn up for the debate.’

And again from Miliband: ‘Like all bullies when the heat is really on, he runs for cover.

Cameron parried and waved a Labour leaflet from Scotland. But the punches from Miliband kept raining down because Cameron really does not have an answer to the question of why he will not do head-to-head debates. It is the problem of playing a percentage game; you get caught if you do not take a risk. It does not look leaderly either. Miliband even suggested that Cameron would not do it because he was scared of losing to Nick Clegg.

By the way Clegg was nowhere to be seen today. Often he sits miserably beside Cameron, as he suffers the most terrible humiliations. Clearly with the Liberal Democrats still on five per cent he was not going to go through it again, and the leader of the house William Hague was in his place looking like a slightly diminutive body guard.

Miliband won. Power is clearly seeping away from Cameron. Labour’s long-serving outgoing MP David Blunkett, Brightside and Hillsborough, who is more astute than anyone could smell it. ‘I was thinking,’ he said. ‘Of raising with the prime minister the Conservatives’ so-called long-term economic plan which like Pinocchio’s nose grows larger and less attractive by the day.’ But he said instead he was going to ask the prime minister if it was a ‘relief that neither he nor I will have to pencil in 12pm on a Wednesday’ for PMQs?

Cameron chose to respond to this by paying tribute to David Blunkett and his record as a minister and MP.

Many of the questions raised were from minor parties, with the notable exception of the SNP who did not say anything.

Stella Creasy, Walthamstow, asked an important question about defence spending as did Gisela Stuart, Birmingham Edgbaston. Cameron responded to neither, this is a Tory weak spot and rather dampens any potential Tory attack on Labour for being weak on defence. Indeed the country is more worried about lack of troops than nuclear submarines, as Cameron knows.

The Tories are on the ropes. That much was clear from today. The short term tactical manoeuvres that Cameron and George Osborne so love, are backfiring on them and making Miliband’s question about character even more pertinent.


Sally Gimson is a journalist and Labour councillor in the London borough of Camden. She writes the PMQs on Progress column and tweets @SallyGimson