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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“It was like a religious ceremony”: What happened at Big Ben’s final bong?

Both inside and outside Parliament, people gathered to hear the clock’s final midday chime before undergoing repairs.

“It’s just hacks everywhere,” a photographer sighs, jamming his lens through a gap in Parliament’s railings to try and get a closer look.

New Palace Yard, Parliament’s courtyard directly below Big Ben, is filling with amused-looking journalists, waiting for the MPs who have promised to hold a “silent vigil”, heads bowed, to mark Big Ben’s final chime before four years of silence while the tower’s repaired.

About four of them turn up. Two by accident.

It’s five minutes to twelve. Tourists are gathering outside Westminster Tube, as tourists do best. A bigger crowd fills Parliament Square. More people than expected congregate outside, even if it’s the opposite within the Palace. The world and his phone are gazing up at the sad, resigned clock face.


“It’s quite controversial, isn’t it?” one elderly woman in an anorak asks her friend. They shrug and walk off. “Do you know what is this?” an Italian tourist politely asks the tiny press pack, gesturing to the courtyard. No one replies. It’s a good question.

“This is the last time,” says another tourist, elated, Instagram-poised.

“DING DONG DING DONG,” the old bell begins.

Heads down, phones up.


It finishes the on-the-hour tune for the last time, and then gives its much-anticipated resignation statement:

“BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG.”

Applause, cheers, and even some tears.


But while the silly-seasoned journalists snigger, the crowd is enthusiastic.

“It’s quite emotional,” says David Lear, a 52-year-old carer from Essex, who came up to London today with his work and waited 45 minutes beneath Big Ben to hear it chime.

He feels “very, very sad” that the bell is falling silent, and finds the MPs’ vigil respectful. “I think lots of people feel quite strongly about it. I don’t know why they’re doing it. During the war it carries on, and then they turn it off for a health and safety reason.”

“I don’t know why they can’t have some speakers half way down it and just play the chime,” he adds. “So many tourists come especially to listen to the chime, they gather round here, getting ready for it to go – and they’re going to switch it off. It’s crazy.”

Indeed, most of the surrounding crowd appears to be made up of tourists. “I think that it was gorgeous, because I’ve never heard him,” smiles Cora, an 18-year-old German tourist. “It was a great experience.”

An Australian couple in their sixties called Jane and Gary are visiting London for a week. “It was like a religious ceremony, everybody went quiet,” laughs Gary. “I hope they don’t forget where they put the keys to start it again in four years’ time.”

“When we first got here, the first thing we did was come to see it,” adds Jane, who is also positive about the MPs who turned up to watch. “I think it’s good they showed a bit of respect. Because they don’t usually show much respect, do they?”

And, as MPs mouthing off about Big Ben are challenged on their contrasting reactions to Grenfell, that is precisely the problem with an otherwise innocent show of sentimentality.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.