PMQs review: Miliband the radical outplays Cameron

The PM is still in the wrong place on the banking scandal.

The hope among the Tories is that the Libor scandal could yet prove more damaging for Labour than for them. But today's PMQs suggests they are likely to be disappointed. The endless argument between Ed Miliband and David Cameron over which party was more committed to "light-touch regulation" matters less than who is seen as toughest on the banks now. 

Today, Cameron's continuing refusal to establish a judge-led inquiry allowed the Labour leader to play the radical. The key moment came when he said of Cameron, "whenever a scandal breaks, he's slow to act and he stands up for the wrong people". One of the poll findings that most troubles Conservative strategists is the public perception that they are far too close to the banks. Yet Cameron has missed another opportunity to rebut this perception. Miliband's declaration that the Tories are a party "bank-rolled by the banks" will resonate with voters.

Cameron seemed oddly underprepared for Labour's attack, ending his exchange with Miliband with the weak quip: "we've found the Higgs Boson particle. But Labour haven't still found a sense of shame." He can continually remind the public that Labour was too close to the banks but this won't alter the perception that he's in the wrong place now. Cameron eventually resorted to the argument that Labour opposes a parliamentary inquiry because it doesn't want its "dirty washing aired in public". If so, why does it support a full judicial inquiry? There was no one left to ask him.

The other notable thing about today's PMQs was how subdued Ed Balls seemed, his heckles muted, his gestures weak. The Tories will hope and Labour will fear that he was preoccupied with his alleged role in the Libor scandal.

Ed Miliband said Cameron was "slow to act and stands up for the wrong". Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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After a year of chaos, MPs from all parties are trying to stop an extreme Brexit

The Greens are calling for a cross-party commission on Brexit.

One year ago today, I stood on Westminster Bridge as the sun rose over a changed country. By a narrow margin, on an unexpectedly high turnout, a majority of people in Britain had chosen to leave the EU. It wasn’t easy for those of us on the losing side – especially after such scaremongering from the leaders of the Leave campaign – but 23 June 2016 showed the power of a voting opportunity where every vote counted.

A year on from the vote, and the process is in chaos. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. The Leave campaign deliberately never spelled out any detailed plan for Brexit, and senior figures fought internal battles over which model they preferred. One minute Britain would be like Norway, then we’d be like Canada – and then we’d be unique. After the vote Theresa May promised us a "Red, White and Blue Brexit" – and then her ministers kept threatening the EU with walking away with no deal at all which, in fairness, would be unique(ly) reckless. 

We now have our future being negotiated by a government who have just had their majority wiped out. More than half of voters opted for progressive parties at the last election – yet the people representing us in Brussels are the right-wing hardliners David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson.

Despite widespread opposition, the government has steadfastly refused to unilaterally guarantee EU citizens their rights. This week it has shown its disregard for the environment as it published a Queen’s Speech with no specific plans for environmental protection in the Brexit process either. 

Amid such chaos there is, however, a glimmer of hope. MPs from all parties are working together to stop an extreme Brexit. Labour’s position seems to be softening, and it looks likely that the Scottish Parliament will have a say on the final deal too. The Democratic Unionist Party is regressive in many ways, but there’s a good chance that the government relying on it will soften Brexit for Northern Ireland, at least because of the DUP's insistence on keeping the border with Ireland open. My amendments to the Queen’s speech to give full rights to EU nationals and create an Environmental Protection Act have cross-party support.

With such political instability here at home – and a growing sense among the public that people deserve a final say on any deal - it seems that everything is up for grabs. The government has no mandate for pushing ahead with an extreme Brexit. As the democratic reformers Unlock Democracy said in a recent report “The failure of any party to gain a majority in the recent election has made the need for an inclusive, consensus based working even more imperative.” The referendum should have been the start of a democratic process, not the end of one.

That’s why Greens are calling for a cross-party commission on Brexit, in order to ensure that voices from across the political spectrum are heard in the process. And it’s why we continue to push for a ratification referendum on the final deal negotiated by the government - we want the whole country to have the last word on this, not just the 650 MPs elected to the Parliament via an extremely unrepresentative electoral system.

No one predicted what would happen over the last year. From the referendum, to Theresa May’s disastrous leadership and a progressive majority at a general election. And no one knows exactly what will happen next. But what’s clear is that people across this country should be at the centre of the coming debate over our future – it can’t be stitched up behind closed doors by ministers without a mandate.

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.

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