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.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.