Ed Miliband gets the better of Cameron in first PMQs

A confident Ed Miliband puts David Cameron on the ropes over child benefit.

Prime Minister's Questions is rarely a good indication of how a leader will perform at election time. William Hague frequently won his exchanges with Tony Blair but still suffered a landslide defeat in 2001. Gordon Brown's PMQs performances improved dramatically towards the end of his premiership but did little to boost his dismal poll ratings.

Yet, as all leaders testify, this single half-hour encounter every Wednesday remains a key determinant of party morale, and a single slip — "We saved the world" — is rarely forgiven. With this in mind, Ed Miliband can be more than satisfied with his performance today.

He began on a statesmanlike note, asking David Cameron for an update on his phone call with Barack Obama about the death of the aid worker Linda Norgrove. Then, after stressing his support for the coalition's reforms to sickness benefit (part of "responsible opposition"), he went on the offensive over the government's child benefit cuts, leaving Cameron, usually such an assured performer, more than a little rattled.

To the charge that he had punished middle-class families ("the deputy headteacher", "the police inspector"), the Prime Minister could only offer his stock reply that the £155bn deficit trumps all. To those families set to lose nearly £3,000, this will sound like a cold and technocratic answer.

Cameron made no sustained attempt to challenge the concept of universal benefits and, as a result, his words lacked intellectual clarity. But elsewhere there was what sounded like a cast-iron pledge to retain the winter fuel allowance in its present form. The much-anticipated war on the welfare state may not materialise after all.

But the defining moment came when Cameron challenged Miliband to explain his defence of middle-class benefits. The Labour leader's sharp response — "I may be new at this game but I think I should ask the questions and he should answer them" — revealed the luxury of opposition. Miliband will soon be forced to make tough choices of his own: on tax, strikes and the deficit. But with the largest cuts since the 1920s on their way, it is Cameron who will be on the defensive every Wednesday afternoon.

PS: One more positive conclusion from today: Ed Miliband can tell jokes. In reference to the shambolic Tory conference, he quipped: "I bet the PM wishes the BBC blackout had gone ahead." It was almost enough to make up for that clunky "train set" joke.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Here’s everything wrong with Daniel Hannan’s tweet about Saturday’s Unite for Europe march

I am Captain Ahab, and Dan is my great white whale, enraging and mocking me in equal measure through his continued political survival.

I was going to give up the Daniel Hannan thing, I really was. He’s never responded to this column, despite definitely being aware of it. The chances of him changing his views in response to verifiable facts seem to be nil, so the odds of him doing it because some smug lefty keeps mocking him on the internet must be into negative numbers.

And three different people now have told me that they were blissfully unaware of Hannan's existence until I kept going on about him. Doing Dan’s PR for him was never really the point of the exercise – so I was going to quietly abandon the field, leave Hannan to his delusion that the disasters ahead are entirely the fault of the people who always said Brexit would be a disaster, and get back to my busy schedule of crippling existential terror.

Told you he was aware of it.

Except then he does something so infuriating that I lose an entire weekend to cataloguing the many ways how. I just can’t bring myself to let it go: I am Captain Ahab, and Dan is my great white whale, enraging and mocking me in equal measure through his continued political survival.

I never quite finished that book, but I’m sure it all worked out fine for Ahab, so we might as well get on with it*. Here’s what’s annoying me this week:

And here are some of the many ways in which I’m finding it obnoxious.

1. It only counts as libel if it’s untrue.

2. This sign is not untrue.

3. The idea that “liars, buffoons and swivel-eyed loons” are now in control of the country is not only not untrue, it’s not even controversial.

4. The leaders of the Leave campaign, who now dominate our politics, are 70 per cent water and 30 per cent lies.

5. For starters, they told everyone that, by leaving the EU, Britain could save £350m a week which we could then spend on the NHS. This, it turned out, was a lie.

6. They said Turkey was about to join the EU. This was a lie too.

7. A variety of Leave campaigners spent recent years saying that our place in the single market was safe. Which it turned out was... oh, you guessed.

8. As to buffoons, well, there’s Brexit secretary David Davis, for one, who goes around cheerfully admitting to Select Committees that the government has no idea what Brexit would actually do to the economy.

9. There was also his 2005 leadership campaign, in which he got a variety of Tory women to wear tight t-shirts with (I’m sorry) “It’s DD for me” written across the chest.

10. Foreign secretary Boris Johnson, meanwhile, is definitely a liar AND a buffoon.

11. I mean, you don’t even need me to present any evidence of that one, do you? You just nodded automatically.

12. You probably got there before me, even. For what it's worth, he was sacked from The Times for making up a quote, and sacked from the shadow frontbench for hiding an affair.

13. Then there’s Liam Fox, who is Liam Fox.

14. I’m not going to identify any “swivel-eyed loons”, because mocking someone’s physical attributes is mean and also because I don’t want to get sued, but let’s not pretend Leave campaigners who fit the bill would be hard to find.

15. Has anyone ever managed to read a tweet by Hannan beginning with the words “a reminder” without getting an overwhelming urge to do unspeakable things to an inanimate object, just to get rid of their rage?

16. Even if the accusation made in that picture was untrue, which it isn’t, it wouldn’t count as libel. It’s not possible to libel 52 per cent of the electorate unless they form a distinct legal entity. Which they don’t.

17. Also, at risk of coming over a bit AC Grayling, “52 per cent of those who voted” is not the same as “most Britons”. I don’t think that means we can dismiss the referendum result, but those phrases mean two different things.

18. As ever, though, the most infuriating thing Hannan’s done here is a cheap rhetorical sleight of hand. The sign isn’t talking about the entire chunk of the electorate who voted for Brexit: it’s clearly talking specifically about the nation’s leaders. He’s conflated the two and assumed we won’t notice.

19. It’s as if you told someone they were shit at their job, and they responded, “How dare you attack my mother!”

20. Love the way Hannan is so outraged that anyone might conflate an entire half of the population with an “out of touch elite”, something that literally no Leave campaigners have ever, ever done.

21. Does he really not know that he’s done this? Or is he just pretending, so as to give him another excuse to imply that all opposition to his ideas is illegitimate?

22. Once again, I come back to my eternal question about Hannan: does he know he’s getting this stuff wrong, or is he genuinely this dim?

23. Will I ever be able to stop wasting my life analysing the intellectual sewage this infuriating man keeps pouring down the internet?

*Related: the collected Hannan Fodder is now about the same wordcount as Moby Dick.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.