Who will trip David Cameron up? The most likely answer is “himself”.
The Prime Minister’s scorn for his opponent, and laughter at his own jokes, suggest a man without a care in the world.
The ease with which Mr Cameron dominates Ed Miliband is becoming a bit offensive. It is like watching a one-sided cricket match: any spectator of a sporting disposition is bound to wish for a closer game.
The Labour leader runs in to bowl six of the most awkward deliveries he can devise – this week to do with police commissioners and NHS waiting times – but is met by an impregnable defence.
Mr Miliband’s questions are not bad, but Mr Cameron’s retorts are better. The Prime Minister has a long training in this not very glorious kind of warfare: in September 1988, straight out of Oxford, he joined the Conservative Research Department, where much effort was devoted to digging out quotations which could be used to suggest that the Labour Party was mired in a set of absurd contradictions.
So when Mr Miliband said elected police commissioners are a waste of money, Mr Cameron hit him with a remark by Gordon Brown: “The Home Secretary will bring forward proposals for directly elected representatives to give local people more control over policing.”
Mr Brown said this in the Commons on 14 May 2008, but Mr Cameron cleverly implied that it had been in the Labour manifesto of May 2010, written by Mr Miliband, whom he proceeded to accuse of “a complete U-turn”.
When Mr Miliband switched to the NHS, Mr Cameron was once more ready and waiting with an inconvenient quotation, this time by John Healey, the shadow Health Secretary, who had apparently opined that “what Labour says matters less than what almost anyone else says”.
Mr Cameron’s professional technique is hidden by the swagger with which he plays his shots. The Prime Minister’s scorn for his opponent, and laughter at his own jokes, suggest a man without a care in the world. At one stage he committed the atrocious mistake of referring to “my housing minister”: the man is the Queen’s housing minister.
Confidence can easily degenerate into over-confidence, which is why Mr Cameron could one day get himself out by attempting a ludicrously risky shot. He is not averse to taking risks, as he showed in a reply to one of his backbenchers.
Nadine Dorries (C, Mid-Bedfordshire) complained that “the Liberal Democrats make up 8.7 per cent of this Parliament and yet they seem to be influencing our free school policy, health and many issues including immigration and abortion”, after which she issued a challenge: “Does the Prime Minister think it is about time he told the Deputy Prime who is the boss?”
Mr Cameron began, “I know the honourable lady is extremely frustrated,” whereupon he was interrupted by rude laughter in which he joined, after which he ended: “I’m going to give up on this one.”
The Prime Minister had not answered the question. Since it was an unanswerable question, or unanswerable without insulting Nick Clegg who was sitting next to him, perhaps that was the best way to leave it.
Tory backbenchers complain that Mr Cameron listens more to Mr Clegg than to them. Mark Reckless (C, Rochester and Strood) demanded that the Prime Minister “now listen to Conservative colleagues and take the opportunity to hold a referendum on Europe”.
Mr Cameron refused to do so. Perhaps it is his own side who will one day trip him up.