UK Politics

Ed wants a truce - is anyone else interested?

Ed Miliband Image copyright PA

Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna is used to the rough and tumble of politics. But perhaps nothing prepares a politicians for stepping into the lion's den - addressing the lobby of parliamentary journalists.

He joked that when he was invited, he spoke to his leader, Ed Miliband, about it. Instead of giving him advice, he said his face dropped and he said simply: "Oh God."

Mr Miliband knows more than most about the bear pit that is politics - particularly the House of Commons at Prime Minister's Questions.

Since the New Year he has been trying to bring a more civilised demeanour to the proceedings.

Initially, political watchers thought he had eschewed the usual Punch and Judy knockabout out of respect for the former Labour minister Paul Goggins, who died on the eve of the first session of the year.

But for the next couple of weeks he continued to strike a more sober tone.

Name-calling

Now the shadow business secretary has told the journalists in the press gallery that he believes there is a crisis in British politics because people are turned off by the spectacle of PMQs which he described as "ridiculously adversarial and far too tribal".

Mr Umunna said he thought that kind of politics only appealed to political journalists - whom he criticised for thinking that the leader of the opposition asking questions about Afghanistan was "boring".

He said politicians at Westminster had not kept pace with the cultural changed outside.

He also spoke about how, after his father died, he had been brought up in an all-female household and said as soon as adversarial politicians started engaging in ya-boo politics on TV, the channel would be changed.

He said backbenchers should be given more scope to ask three or four questions so they could properly challenge the prime minister and there would be fewer planted questions.

Mr Umunna also said Mr Miliband had deliberately sought to change the tone - to be less confrontational - and that David Cameron must respond.

The sentiment is all well and good - new PMs often pledge to be more dignified at PMQs and not resort to insults and name-calling.

But, as Mr Miliband has realised in the past few weeks, it takes more than one person to change the mood.

Taxing questions

It's not in David Cameron's interests to tone down his attacks - his backbenchers enjoy it and he has been seen to have won the last few rounds.

After a couple of dismal performances, Mr Miliband changed his tactic this week. It should have been an easy win for Mr Cameron, coming on the day of good news with the UK economy growing at the fastest rate since 2007 - but Mr Miliband had different ideas.

Labour having announced it would increase the top rate of income tax to 50% if it won the next election, Mr Miliband asked Mr Cameron for a commitment that he had no plans to reduce this still further to 40% in the pound - from the current 45%.

He knew the PM couldn't answer that - as it's a decision for the chancellor. So, instead, he looked to his notes but couldn't find the answer.

Knowing he had him on the ropes, Mr Miliband continued to ask the question - three times in all - and still the PM couldn't answer.

The two Eds - Miliband and Balls laughed; the Labour benches cheered. And that appeared to be the end of the more dignified tone at PMQs.

Mr Umunna said the Labour leader wanted to change the tone of PMQs and was urging the PM to respond. His problem is it takes two to call a truce.

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