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Cameron careful not to tear into the "steel and grit" of Ed Miliband. Solidarity over Scotland.

By Joseph Willits 
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Today's first PMQs of 2012 was a random affair. Cameron had a whole week of Labour created material, from which he could have used to rip apart the "steel and grit" of Ed Miliband. However, rather sensibly, he was restrained, and chose not to go overboard on the Labour leader's failings. After all, the Conservative party will be keen to retain Ed Miliband as Labour's leader.

Miliband was correct to break up his questions, four on the increase in rail fares, and two on Scottish independence. He probably rescued himself from a Cameron, who had moments of both viciousness and warmth, and his own repetitiveness. People will have lost count the number of times he said "wrong". Tension climaxed with Cameron quoting Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy, who had warned against "populism" in opposing all cuts.

Miliband had asked Cameron over an 11% increase in rail fares, when Osborne had promised 1% in the Autumn. A short response from Cameron stated it was Labour who had prepared the way for this decision. The contradictions were so blunt from either side, that the debate appeared to be going nowhere.

People may be suggesting that Miliband's choice to focus on rail fares was an odd one, however with yesterday's announcement of high speed rail (HS2), Cameron was able to list the successes in transport policy as he saw them - Crossrail, HS2 - backed up by Sir Roger Gale who hailed the "courageous decision" over HS2, and praised Transport Secretary Justine Greening.

With questions now focusing on a referendum on Scottish independence, an unusual show of solidarity in the House and a wholehearted show of support for the union created an air of friendliness in the Chamber. There were statesmanlike approaches from Cameron and Miliband. Both men were in "100% agreement" that the UK is stronger together. It was "sad", said Cameron that this debate was even taking place.

Then appeared the pantomine villiain - the SNP's Angus Robertson. His apperance brought back the tension in the Commons which had been diffused by Cameron's and Miliband's "100% agreement". Robertson made some remark about there being more pandas in Edinburgh zoo than Tory MPs in Scotland, and was able to compare Cameron to Thatcher in that he was dictating to Scotland. Usually a reference to Thatcher may have got the Labour backbenches excited, but today was an unusual PMQs, and it went relatively unnoticed. Nobody, it seems, were willing to entertain the SNP.


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