PMQs verdict: Cameron’s masterpiece of mockery
In one joke David Cameron managed to make Ed Miliband look geeky, isolated, dominated by the unions and Ed Balls, and above all "miserable". Whatever you think of the prime minister, this was political artistry at its finest.
The trigger for one of Cameron's best ever PMQs moments was a superb question from Tony Baldry, the Conservative backbencher who spends his time making sure the Church of England aren't too unhappy.
"In the 1983 general election a 13-year-old boy delivered leaflets around my constituency pledging that Michael Foot would take Labour out of the European Union," Baldry began. The boy, of course, was Ed Miliband. And those leaflets were embarrassing because now, three decades later, he is refusing to back Tory calls for an in-out referendum on EU membership.
Cameron had to be careful here; William Hague, of course, was a famously nerdy teenager. Despite the risk of offending Hague – another geek who didn't ever look like making it into Downing Street – the PM decided to make the most of the opportunity.
"I've always thought it's terribly unfair to hold against people things they might have done in their youth," he said. There was a genuine nudge-nudge wink-wink in this reply of which Eric Idle over at the O2 would have been proud. Cameron himself has never been perfect and nor have all of his Cabinet colleagues (Nick Clegg, in particular, was struggling to keep a straight face). Everyone was laughing – not at Cameron, as could so easily have been the case – but with him.
"If as a 14-year-old that was his idea of fun," he continued, allowing is voice to rise several tones into a Stewie-esque pitch of innocent wheedling, "obviously, you know, we have to you know make room, you know, for everybody!"
It was very, very neatly done – especially so as it followed a turgid set of exchanges over NHS waiting times. That was another missed opportunity by the Labour leader, which Cameron had polished off by targeting Miliband's weak leadership. With no chance to respond to this jibe and after a few minutes of simmering, here was a great chance for Miliband to come back with some heckling. "What's your idea of fun?" Miliband and Balls yelled out to Cameron. The most important person in the country replied: "It's not hanging out with the shadow chancellor!"
That would normally have been enough. But Cameron, sensing a moment and wanting it to carry on a bit longer, starting improvising. "And so I feel sorry for the leader of the opposition because he has to hang out with him all of the time! What a miserable existence it must be to have sitting next to you the person who wrecked the British economy and have to listen to them day after day!" This was brilliantly done. For a man who endured a 26-2 defeat in Brussels and a public apology to the nation just last week, the PM's sang froid has been restored remarkably quickly. He is doing well in the polls again, but really: this is an extraordinary turnaround.
Miliband, by contrast, is looking droopier than a Labour rose in the summer heat. He only really smiled when Cameron was making fun of him. And his mood will have darkened when he emerged from the Commons chamber: Unite has backed a motion from its executive council calling on Labour to support an EU referendum.
The 13-year-old Miliband might have approved, but the 44-year-old Miliband won't like it one bit. The problem, according to Len McCluskey, is that "ducking this question is seen as part of Labour's commitment to business".
McCluskey continues: "That is a vast hostage to fortune. I would not like to be Ed Miliband explaining why he is not joining other parties in offering the British people a vote on something that is clearly a growing source of public concern."
It's a quote which certainly puts the 'punch' into punchline. Between them, Cameron and McCluskey are making Miliband's existence very miserable indeed.