All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
Not for a moment have I missed sitting on the green benches. Not for a wistful split-second have I wished that I had the choice again. As I’ve watched them twist and turn in the Westminster wind, and remembered how it feels, there’s been nothing but relief that it isn’t me any more.
Until today. Ed Miliband’s first prime minister’s questions was a great parliamentary moment. A performance of such assurance and aplomb on the first day of such an inexperienced leader that it will be long remembered.
All new party leaders begin by promising an end to the punch and judy style of traditional PMQs. They never mean it. Substantively, Miliband doesn’t mean it either. It’s not a debate; it’s a fight; and he wants to win. But presentationally – and may the ghost of Frank Johnson forgive me for the phrase – he just changed the game.
At a stroke, by simply willing it, he halved the heat and pace of what has always been a stupidly uproarious affair, and effortlessly took control.
At first he seemed so slow that one feared the worst. But he held his nerve and within a minute was completely in command of the occasion.
The prime minister was visibly unnerved by his new opponent’s extraordinary ease and effectiveness. He was quietly but firmly placed on ground he cannot win, politely asked questions he can’t answer, and embarrassingly kept there till Miliband’s time ran out. It was a remarkable performance. And Cameron hated it.
I can see Steve Hilton’s brain racing as he starts to process what just happened. It changes everything. Cameron came to office facing a great leader on the way out. Then, two years later, as Cameron began to hit his stride, Blair was replaced by Brown, who never really mastered PMQs.
What Cameron faces now is a young unknown who not only swept the prime minister aside on his first outing, but will improve every month.
And any one who thinks this is “just PMQs” understands nothing about modern politics. It’s pure communication. It’s soundbites. It’s television. It’s what works. And Miliband was brilliant. Much, much better than Cameron.
This was more than just a bravura performance by the new leader. It was a moment of hope.