David Miliband lashes coalition over position on Europe

Splits between Lib Dems and Tories dramatically exposed.

From the Commons chamber:

David Miliband, the shadow foreign secretary and front-runner in the Labour leadership, is currently taking apart the Europe policy of the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition.

Earlier, William Hague, the new Foreign Secretary, tried to ridicule Miliband by saying that "the situation has changed" and that Miliband will have to "agree" with him over various cross-party issues.

But on Europe, Miliband did not hold back, pointing out that the Deputy Prime Minister himself, Nick Clegg, has called the Tories' new EU allies "nutters". He also quoted the Hague describing the Lib Dems as "fanatical federalists".

Finally, Miliband said that while the Foreign Secretary was good at "jokes", his new job would, "for the first time in a long time", require him to have "judgement".

Miliband's contribution has just been described as a "leadership speech" by Ming Campbell. That is unfair, because Miliband has offered similar messages repeatedly in recent years.

But there is no doubt that he has just shown -- with the force of his argument and his ability to take apart this rather awkwardly balanced coalition -- why he is front-runner to lead Labour and take on the Cameron-led government.

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.