PMQs verdict: Cameron beats Miliband on points

Cameron won this round but he may live to regret his obstinacy about housing benefit.

David Cameron saved the best till last at today's PMQs. He seized on the leaked PMQs memo (£) in today's Times and taunted Ed Miliband with its contents: "It's important to have a cheer line." Having used up all six of his questions, Miliband could only grin as Cameron landed an easy slam dunk.

The Prime Minister finished: "He's got a plan for PMQs but he's got no plan for the economy, no plan for the debt." That alone was enough for him to claim a points victory.

But that flourish followed a fierce exchange on the housing benefit cap in which Cameron offered no hint of compromise – a stance he may live to regret. Miliband's joke that a glum Nick Clegg "was back on the fags" may have fallen flat, but he was right to draw MPs' attention to a glum-looking Simon Hughes.

Hughes, who has warned that ministers will have to "negotiate" to win approval for the "draconian" measures, will be alarmed by Cameron's obstinacy. The Prime Minister's repeated insistence that "we're sticking to our plans" throws into doubt the possibility of transitional arrangements for London, as demanded by Boris Johnson.

It was left to the Lib Dems' serial rebel, Bob Russell, to sound a note of caution when he warned that the subject was "no laughing matter". Should, as charities warn, 82,000 families be forced out of London – the largest population movement since the Second World War – Russell's words will prove prescient.

Regardless of the rights or wrongs of the cap itself, the population churn will overwhelm local councils. Expect calls for compromise to spread to the Tory benches in time.

Miliband's performance had improved noticeably since last week and his urge for Cameron to "think again" about housing benefit will have resonated with Lib Dems. He and Labour will have many more opportunities to exploit divisions on this issue.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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What happened when a couple accidentally recorded two hours of their life

The cassette tape threw Dan and Fiona into a terrible panic.

If the Transformers series of movies (Transformers; Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen; Transformers: Dark of the Moon; Transformers: Age of Extinction; and Transformers: the Last Knight) teach us anything, it is that you think your life is going along just fine but in a moment, with a single mistake or incident, it can be derailed and you never know from what direction the threat will come. Shia LaBeouf, for example, thinks everything is completely OK in his world – then he discovers his car is a shape-shifting alien.

I once knew a couple called Dan and Fiona who, on an evening in the early 1980s, accidentally recorded two hours of their life. Fiona was an English teacher (in fact we’d met at teacher-training college) and she wished to make a recording of a play that was being broadcast on Radio 4 about an anorexic teenager living on a council estate in Belfast. A lot of the dramas at that time were about anorexic teenagers living on council estates in Belfast, or something very similar – sometimes they had cancer.

Fiona planned to get her class to listen to the play and then they would have a discussion about its themes. In that pre-internet age when there was no iPlayer, the only practical way to hear something after the time it had been transmitted was to record the programme onto a cassette tape.

So Fiona got out their boom box (a portable Sony stereo player), loaded in a C120 tape, switched on the radio part of the machine, tuned it to Radio 4, pushed the record button when the play began, and fastidiously turned the tape over after 60 minutes.

But instead of pushing the button that would have taped the play, she had actually pushed the button that activated the built-in microphone, and the machine captured, not the radio drama, but the sound of 120 minutes of her and Dan’s home life, which consisted solely of: “Want a cup of tea?” “No thanks.” And a muffled fart while she was out of the room. That was all. That was it.

The two of them had, until that moment, thought their life together was perfectly happy, but the tape proved them conclusively wrong. No couple who spent their evenings in such torpidity could possibly be happy. Theirs was clearly a life of grinding tedium.

The evidence of the cassette tape threw Dan and Fiona into a terrible panic: the idea of spending any more of their evenings in such bored silence was intolerable. They feared they might have to split up. Except they didn’t want to.

But what could they do to make their lives more exciting? Should they begin conducting sordid affairs in sleazy nightclubs? Maybe they could take up arcane hobbies such as musketry, baking terrible cakes and entering them in competitions, or building models of Victorian prisons out of balsa wood? Might they become active in some kind of extremist politics?

All that sounded like a tremendous amount of effort. In the end they got themselves a cat and talked about that instead. 

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder