Ed Miliband the statesman: will this improve his public image?
Peace breaks out in Commons over Iraq crisis after new poll shows Labour leader is failing to impress
Ed Miliband surprised David Cameron by offering total cross-party support at Prime Minister’s Questions today for the government’s approach to the growing conflagration in the Middle East.
Cameron told the Commons the grim news that there was fighting between Iraqi government forces and Isis militants over the city of Baquba, less than 40 miles away from the capital.
But there was an outbreak of peace and love in the Commons between the two party leaders.
Cameron was clearly taken aback by the warmth of Miliband’s support for all the government is doing: the reopening of the British embassy in Iran, an increase from £3 million to £5 million in aid for refugees from Syria and Iraq, and pressure brought to bear on the Iraqi leader, Nouri al-Malaki, to bring the Sunnis into talks with Shias.
The PM told the Labour leader: “I am grateful for the cross-party approach on this.”
Repeatedly, Cameron was forced to say: “I agree with you on this…” They particularly agreed on Miliband’s final point that a solution would only come through all sides being brought into the Malaki government against the Isis insurgency.
“I agree with him," said Cameron, "it would be a mistake to believe the only answer is to take direct intervention…”
In short, both Cameron and Miliband are turning their backs on the advice of former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair who called at the weekend for military intervention by the West against Isis.
Indeed, Blair is persona non grata in Westminster right now: Peter Tapsell, the Tory 'Father of the House', told the Commons that in the absence of the Chilcot Inquiry report on Iraq, Tory MPs would use their ancient powers as backbenchers to impeach Blair for misleading the Commons over the need for the invasion of Iraq.
So, what is Miliband's statesmanlike approach to the Middle East and PMQs all about? Is he perhaps keen to prove to his colleagues - and the general public – that he has prime ministerial qualities?
An Ipsos-Mori poll for today’s Evening Standard said the percentage of voters who think Miliband is “ready to be Prime Minister” has actually gone down in the past year - from 24 to 22 per cent.
By contrast, 35 per cent think the Labour Party is ready to form a government - a rise from 29 per cent - which suggests Miliband's policies have caught the public's eye while the man himself is still not inspiring confidence.