Cameron and Miliband caught in ratings death spiral

The Death Star

On Tuesday, chief whip Michael Gove told all the Conservative backbenchers that there was so little going on in parliament that they might as well stay at home on Thursdays.

If David Cameron and Ed Miliband persist with the feebleness of their repartee at prime minister’s questions for much longer, Gove would do everyone a favour by suggesting they take Wednesdays off as well.

Both leaders are locked in a ratings death spiral, their exchanges now amounting to little more than “Your party hates you”, “Yeah well, but your party hates you even more.” With Rochester and Strood odds on to turn Ukip and several more MPs for whom desertion is becoming an increasingly attractive option on one side of the house, and a front bench team whose faces are now twisted into a rictus of forced jollity on the other, the race to immolation is neck and neck.

The Tories have now taken to cheering Miliband every time he appears in the Commons. Unfortunately, as the average delay between stimulus and response now runs into several seconds for many Tories, this meant that they were shouting and jeering as the Labour leader paid tribute to Rabbi Avraham Goldberg who was murdered in Jerusalem and saying, “Hear, hear” when he asked why the prime minister preferred the bedroom tax to the mansion tax. Someone should have a word in their ear. And preferably check back a few minutes later to make sure they’ve heard.

Miliband does at least try to ask the odd sensible question. Cameron no longer even makes a pretence of answering and uses the occasion to run through his themed gag routine of the week. This week’s theme was Myleene Klass, the B-list media personality who had a go at Miliband about the mansion tax on a TV show that almost no one actually watched. Quite why anyone should have taken her views – “You can’t buy a garage for £2m” – quite so seriously is a mystery. It’s like asking for Louis Walsh’s opinion on Ukraine. But the devil finds work for idle hands, and Westminster’s hands are idler than usual at the moment so Klass has now been elevated overnight to the status of Tory grandee.

“We are not seeing a C-L-A-S-S act opposite,” Cameron leered, spelling out the joke slowly in case some of his back benchers had missed it. The Tory synapses flickered before connecting and the laugh eventually came. Reassured that his colleagues were now on his wavelength – think Michael McIntyre with even weaker gags – the prime minister pressed on.

“This was the week in which Myleene Klass wiped the floor with him in a television programme, and this was the week in which an opinion poll in Scotland showed that more people believe in the Loch Ness monster than believe in his leadership,” he said. “The only problem for the Labour party is that he does actually exist.”

Having failed to get a coherent reply on the bedroom tax, Miliband moved on to the NHS. This was just as unproductive, as people with cancer have now just become statistics to be traded and jeered at across the house rather than people in need of help. Cancer waiting times are up. Boo/hooray. Cancer waiting times are down. Boo/hooray. You wouldn’t put it past some MPs to pull out the chemotherapy drips from patients if they thought it would help them get re-elected. After this, some cancer patients might be inclined to pull out their own drips. Come the Speaker’s final whistle, the few remaining sentient beings left in the chamber were wishing they – like Nessie - didn’t exist either.

Powered by article was written by John Crace, for The Guardian on Wednesday 19th November 2014 19.13 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010