No howling, no animal noises, no Brueghel peasant carnival atmosphere. It was PMQs but not as we know it. The almost orderly session revealed several new dynamics on the floor of the House.
Ed Balls seems to have been crushed. “Red Ed and redder Ed,” the PM laughed, recalling the pulsing flush that suffused the shadow chancellor last week. And then, more bruisingly,“The autumn statement proved one thing. He can dish it out, but he can’t take it!”
True, the shadow chancellor’s hand gestures were so poor he couldn’t have got a job at Nelson Mandela’s funeral. The downward pointing finger was picked up by Cameron – that’s the only direction the Balls career is going.
That’s what caused a little too much visible pleasure in the Opposition leader.
While it’s always a laugh to see Ed Miliband laughing (the teeth promising to jump out of his face and chatter around the desk in circles) it diverts attention from an emerging Miliband.
Because Awkward Ed is evolving quite quickly now into Miliband Mark II.
There are two equal and opposite components in the new model. Ice Pick Ed we are seeing a bit, in and out of the House. This is evidenced by the look of Soviet ruthlessness that crosses his face when he is slighted. A collection of such images will be started in due course.
Less scary, it is possible to glimpse the work in progress that is prime ministerial Ed. The calm, quiet-voiced, in-total-control version that suggests he is so suited to office, he is such a natural, that power will come to him and fall about his body like a well-cut suit.
File that under Audacity of Hope.
Thus, he felt he could say to the prime minister: “Can I urge him to work with me . . . “
Urge him to work with me!
It’s too early to bring this off, but we’ll be seeing more of it.
Although the second new dynamic is going to present Mark II a problem in implementation. The quiet and effortless superioty depends on a rampant Labour back bench barracking loudly enough to make Cameron shout and bark and look flustered.
Speaker Bercow has delivered that Labour racket consistently for some time now, depriving Cameron of his lordly ease. But Bercow has been humiliated recently on several fronts, and has realised the danger he is in from a Tory uprising. So seriously is he taking this that he is now, quite suddenly, reprimanding Labour MPs for their noise-making – and without the cooing, stroking, fawning, he has always used on them. “Our Speaker” as Labour calls him seems to be defecting.
A quieter House allows Cameron’s more attractive qualities to flower. He makes friendly remarks when he can to the Opposition, he praises Meg Munn (and that’s not as easy as it sounds), he teases the Chair (“I don’t know how you’re going to keep us all in order, Mr Speaker.”), and makes a polite, self-deprecating joke (see Quote of the Day).
When calm, he easily outdances his opponent. This is worth bearing in mind, as things go on.