Verdict: Cameron wins, by a country mile
I really can’t believe that Miliband just asked six questions about the AstraZeneca takeover. I’m stunned. He wanted to avoid the economy – fair enough given the double whammy of the announcement from the OECD about above trend growth and unemployment figures falling, plus the fact that he’d pummelled a less than stellar Cameron on the topic last week – but come on. One, this isn’t an issue that has resonated with the public particularly and two, it’s too close to the subject of the economy to be an effective steer.
That’s before we get into the story doing the rounds in the papers about Miliband deciding not to meet with Pfizer himself because he was, and I quote, “out campaigning”. Once that story hits, you have to dump the AstraZeneca questions and talk about anything else. Absolutely anything else. But no, Miliband went ahead with it. And got annihilated.
Notable low points: Miliband talking about how the Prime Minister isn’t getting enough “assurances” from Pfizer, and that as Prime Minister he should be more aggressive somehow. This kind of stuff is sure to do the dispelling of the “Red Ed” image a world of good, isn’t it? We have a free market economy, Ed. Miliband even said something about how the PM thinks the free market is better than stepping in and acting in the “national interest”. That’s because he’s a Tory, Ed, and has never dabbled in Stalinism. Lower than that even was when Miliband said there should be a “proper test of public interest” done on the deal. This gave Cameron the open goal to point out that there used to be such a test as a matter of law. It was dispensed with by a certain Labour MP named Ed Miliband.
The leader of the opposition really, really needs to find something to talk about other than takeover deals most of the country doesn’t care about and dredging up the Royal Mail takeover for the umpteenth time (it, of course, got another mention today by Ed). Take a real stand on something, man, preferably aimed at one of Cameron’s weak spots. Like anything about Europe, or UKIP, or things he disagrees with his backbenches on (i.e. almost everything). And either concede the economic argument or come up with a counter one. If he keeps looking like he’s avoiding the topic every week, this could get ugly for Labour in the run-up to May 2015.