Mehdi Hasan's PMQs review: Miliband bests Cameron over phone-hacking

It was a bravura performance from the Labour leader.

Those of us who have long argued that Ed Miliband has a steely side and shouldn't be underestimated or written off are feeling rather pleased with ourselves this afternoon.

Miliband chewed up and spat out David Cameron in one of his finest performances at the despatch box so far, leaving the Prime Minister in full "Flashman" mode: testy, irritated, veins near bulging point, getting pinker and pinker with each irate and defensive answer.

The session was a game of two halves: the first had Miliband quiet, serious, speaking on behalf of the public, asking for a public inquiry into hacking -- and getting one! -- and expressing disgust with the latest phone-hacking allegations. The second half saw him go after Cameron personally, calling on the Prime Minister to join him in demanding the resignation of the News International boss, Rebekah Brooks -- a close personal friend and regular dining parter of Cameron -- denouncing the PM's decision to employ the former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his director of communications (a post from which Coulson resigned only in January) and urging the coalition government to refer Rupert Murdoch's bid to buy all of BSkyB to the Competition Commission.

Ahead of PMQs, the BBC's deputy political editor, James Landale, observed:

Ed Miliband has two options in terms of tactics on hacking. He can choose to be political, attacking David Cameron over his judgement in employing Andy Coulson, or he can position himself as the voice of the people, focusing on the public revulsion at some of the most recent revelations.

The Labour leader threw out the rule book and decided to do both. It worked. Cameron spent much of the exchange on the defensive, unable to offer convincing answers or rebuttals and falling back on the tired and now discredited response of: "Let the police do their work." The verdict of the political Twitterati was in before he'd sat down after his last question: Ed Miliband 1, David Cameron 0.

Here's the Sky News political editor, Adam Boulton:

PMQs: EM wipes the floor with DC on #phonehacking #NotW #Skymerger. DC backs inquiries but ducks on Rebekah, Coulson and merger referral

Here's his Sky News colleague Jon Craig:

Ed Miliband's best PMQs yet? The view of a few of us in the Press Gallery. Well argued, calm, reasoned. Had Cameron on defensive & rattled.

Here's the ITV News political editor, Tom Bradby:

He was stronger, more confident, more authoritative and more convincing than he has ever been. He may just have saved his leadership.

And then there's Charlie Brooker, who asked:

Who knew Miliband had a "Hulk" mode?

A simple answer: James Macintyre and I did.

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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