PMQs review: Miliband triumphs over the "comedians in the cabinet"

A brilliant Jimmy Carr joke made this an easy win for Miliband.

After Chloe Smith's disastrous interview on Newsnight last night, today's PMQs saw David Cameron suffer his own car-crash moment. In response to the government's latest U-turn on fuel duty, Ed Miliband dug out a brilliant quote from Cameron in which the Prime Minister declared that he would defend "every part" of the Budget having worked on it "line-by-line" with George Osborne. Cameron's response that "it cannot be a U-turn to get rid of a Labour tax increase" fell rather flat because it was a Tory one. He went on to boast that he had "defused" Labour's tax bombshells, rather forgetting his own "VAT bombshell" (in the words of the Lib Dems).

Today wasn't one of Miliband's best peformances but with the aid of Nadine Dorries (who attacked Osborne on Twitter over the Chloe Smith interview) and a brilliant joke about Jimmy Carr, he won an easy victory. Having previously tripped up by describing Dorries  as "frustrated", Cameron had no obvious riposte to the charge that his Chancellor was "a coward" as well as "arrogant", while Osborne, naturally, looked distinctly uncomfortable. The other high point came when Miliband asked Cameron why he had criticised tax avoidance while cutting taxes for millionaires. "It's one rule for the comedians on the stage and another for the comedians in the cabinet," he quipped. So good was the joke that Labour MPs cried "more! more!" as Miliband sat down.

Today's PMQs also offered us a preview of the line Cameron will take on Labour's stance on Lords reform. With the party pledged to vote against the procedural motion but in favour of the second reading, Cameron painted Miliband as a ditherer who was simultaneously for and against an elected chamber. This isn't true, of course, but Labour will need to find a succinct way to explain its opposition to the process but not the principle of Lords reform.

Labour leader Ed Miliband attacked Cameron's Budget U-turns at today's Prime Minister's Questions. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Commons Confidential: Fearing the Wigan warrior

An electoral clash, select committee elections as speed dating, and Ed Miliband’s political convalescence.

Members of Labour’s disconsolate majority, sitting in tight knots in the tearoom as the MP with the best maths skills calculates who will survive and who will die, based on the latest bad poll, observe that Jeremy Corbyn has never been so loyal to the party leadership. The past 13 months, one told me, have been the Islington rebel’s longest spell without voting against Labour. The MP was contradicted by a colleague who argued that, in voting against Trident renewal, Corbyn had defied party policy. There is Labour chatter that an early general election would be a mercy killing if it put the party out of its misery and removed Corbyn next year. In 2020, it is judged, defeat will be inevitable.

The next London mayoral contest is scheduled for the same date as a 2020 election: 7 May. Sadiq Khan’s people whisper that when they mentioned the clash to ministers, they were assured it won’t happen. They are uncertain whether this indicates that the mayoral contest will be moved, or that there will be an early general election. Intriguing.

An unguarded retort from the peer Jim O’Neill seems to confirm that a dispute over the so-called Northern Powerhouse triggered his walkout from the Treasury last month. O’Neill, a fanboy of George Osborne and a former Goldman Sachs chief economist, gave no reason when he quit Theresa May’s government and resigned the Tory whip in the Lords. He joined the dots publicly when the Resolution Foundation’s director, Torsten Bell, queried the northern project. “Are you related to the PM?” shot back the Mancunian O’Neill. It’s the way he tells ’em.

Talk has quietened in Westminster Labour ranks of a formal challenge to Corbyn since this year’s attempt backfired, but the Tories fear Lisa Nandy, should the leader fall under a solar-powered ecotruck selling recycled organic knitwear.

The Wigan warrior is enjoying favourable reviews for her forensic examination of the troubled inquiry into historic child sex abuse. After Nandy put May on the spot, the Tory three-piece suit Alec Shelbrooke was overheard muttering: “I hope she never runs for leader.” Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan, the Thelma and Louise of Tory opposition to Mayhem, were observed nodding in agreement.

Select committee elections are like speed dating. “Who are you?” inquired Labour’s Kevan Jones (Granite Central)of a stranger seeking his vote. She explained that she was Victoria Borwick, the Tory MP for Kensington, but that didn’t help. “This is the first time you’ve spoken to me,” Jones continued, “so the answer’s no.” The aloof Borwick lost, by the way.

Ed Miliband is joining Labour’s relaunched Tribune Group of MPs to continue his political convalescence. Next stop: the shadow cabinet?

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage