Will Labour's Ed Miliband score vital points at PMQs?
Will Labour's Ed Miliband score vital points at PMQs?


And the ball went into the back of the net again and again. Miliband delivered one of his best performances yet leaving the Prime Minister diving left, right and centre and missing every shot. David Cameron announced a year-long "competition test" for energy firms (whatever that is) and buried his own green credentials saying he wanted to roll back the green regulations driving up energy bills.

Best quote from Miliband was that at least John Major managed to win a majority, something Cameron failed to do - that hurt. And Cameron was even warned by the Speaker not to keep calling Miliband a "con man" as it was unparliamentary and "below the level" of proper debate. Six nil to Miliband. Tory MPs subdued.

If there is one thing worse for an Opposition leader than facing the prime minister at the peak of his powers then it is facing one offering a wide open goal.

And, thanks to the energy prices scandal (now the right word for this affair) which has been shifted up a few gears by former Tory premier Sir John Major, Ed Miliband enters his weekly clash with David Cameron facing a yawning goalmouth the size of the entrance to the Channel Tunnel.

If he misses this one the damage he will inflict on the morale of his own troops will be incalculable. The old image of geeky Ed, unable to ever follow through and deliver a killer blow, will be back and his leadership future may even be back on the agenda.

All those seeking to write him off as the new Neil Kinnock will have the final evidence they have been seeking.

In 1986, the all-conquering Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher was on the ropes over the Westland helicopter crisis when she faced the then Labour leader in the House of Commons with many on all sides believing that by the end of the day she would be out of a job.

But the "Welsh windbag", as Kinnock was branded, blew it. He rambled, he spoke for far too long, and he missed his target by a mile.

The resignation letter Thatcher had in her handbag - figuratively if not literally as was claimed at the time - was torn up and thrown into the Downing Street fire. Kinnock probably never recovered.

Without exaggerating the scale of the energy crisis and Major's astonishing intervention with his Labour-friendly demand for an excess profits tax on the big six, the clash between Miliband and Cameron at least has the potential to have a significant impact on both their futures.

No one is talking about resignations here - at least not yet. But these things have a horrible habit or running out of control, every leader's worst nightmare.

The key to this one is whether Miliband can make the most of the energy crisis battering Cameron and which, thanks to his own efforts and the boost they received from Major, has the prime minister struggling to get his alternative messages heard.

Ed Miliband
Ed Miliband is trying to crack down on the big six energy companies who dominate the UK consumer market (Reuters)

It is obvious what line of attack Miliband must take - even your own most loyal supporters believe you are out of touch and standing up for the wrong people, it's time to admit defeat and do something.

Cameron is on a spike. This week was supposed to be all about good economic figures. They are there and Cameron will undoubtedly claim that, as usual, Miliband wants to talk about anything other than the recovery and how he and his shadow chancellor Ed Balls first sparked the financial crisis then demanded the wrong remedies.

But on this occasion, that will not do. Cameron needs something more. A surprise, as yet unforeseen, policy on the energy companies could be on offer, although such a major U-turn seems unlikely and would be damaging in its own right.

People say Prime Minister's Question Time doesn't matter. They are wrong. It matters because of the potentially lethal effect it can have on the morale of the leaders' MPs.

And it will be the way they react to today's confrontation, once all the usual knee-jerk expressions of loyalty have been stripped away, that will provide the final verdict on the clash.