PMQs verdict: So one-sided it was hard to watch
"Bye bye," a Conservative MP said across the chamber to the lone figure scurrying for the door at the end of PMQs. Ed Miliband, the scurrier, looked like he was running off to cry in the toilets.
Any impartial observer in the Commons chamber trying to predict who might win the general election would conclude Labour is on course for a thrashing. Miliband's questions were precise and targeted, but they could barely be made out over the sheer volume of Tory confidence that heckled and barracked and humiliated the leader of the opposition. It was a thrashing, plain and simple, won by the backbenchers who cheered Cameron home. It was so painfully one-sided it was hard to watch. It made the eyes water.
It takes a lot for political journalists to feel pity, an emotion the trade usually supresses mercilessly. But on this occasion it was unavoidable. Poor old Miliband. The answer, grim but necessary, was obvious.
Let this nightmare end. Let him be freed from the weekly agony of this session. Let him slink off to the Lords or a think-tank or the United Nations and find something more useful to do with his time. The only reasonable conclusion that any sane and logical person could make is that Miliband is finished.
And yet, believe it or not, he isn't. Despite all the talk of Nigel Farage and the Greens and the SNP, it is Ed Miliband who leads the party which is ahead in national polls. He is just as likely to become prime minister as David Cameron is to remain it. Miliband has a long-term plan of his own: to govern in Downing Street from this May, despite what everybody says, despite the devastating setbacks he suffers along the way. It seems incredible after this lunchtime, but it is still a possibility. "Bye bye" might be a little premature.
There's a mismatch causing the Tories' overblown confidence. They are convinced that, sometime in the remaining 92 days of this campaign, the opinion polls will suddenly swing ten points towards their party. That is the margin needed for the Conservatives to win the overall majority which one backbencher predicted would miraculously materialise. Such a dramatic shift hasn't happened in the past in the run-up to elections, but never mind.
Another suggested just 30 or 40 seats in the Commons would actually change hands, thanks to MPs doing a better job at incumbency this time round. Most of those, obviously, would be at Labour's expense in Scotland. It is this kind of misguided, almost arrogant thinking that has persuaded so many Tory MPs they are invulnerable. They have a blind faith in the electorate's ability to suddenly start liking them. This causes them to be volubly confident in PMQs, helping Cameron to victory.
Who can blame them? Ed Balls had already ruined his leader's PMQs prospects by slipping up on Newsnight. His failure to remember the name of the guy he'd had dinner with led to Tory backbenchers yelling "Who's Bill? Who's Bill?" repeatedly. Presumably Bill is at home somewhere shaking his head at being reduced to a political pawn like this. "Bill Somebody's not a person," Cameron said. "Bill Somebody's Labour's policy!" The Tories shouted their laughter at Labour. They are contemptuous in anticipation of a victory that could yet prove illusory.
The Commons, as critics often point out, is disconnected from reality. That was never truer than today.