PMQs verdict: Miliband gets the better of frustrated Cameron

The Labour leader’s attack on the coalition’s “broken promises” will resonate.

It all started so calmly. Ed Miliband opened with two statesmanlike questions on air freight security and economic development in Yemen, simply asking the Prime Minister to "update the House". But this soon degenerated into the most vicious and ill-tempered PMQs since the election.

In what could be his last bout before he takes paternity leave, Miliband targeted the Lib Dems over their U-turn on tuition fees. He eschewed a policy-based critique of the coalition's proposals (no mention of higher student debt, for instance) in favour of a wide-ranging attack on the government's "broken promises".

This was one of the Labour leader's more effective performances and his pointed assertion that "the Prime Minister used to think that trust mattered" will resonate with the electorate.

In some of the most memorable lines he's delivered, Miliband declared: "This is a government of broken promises. Broken promises on tuition fees, broken promises on VAT, broken promises on child benefit from the Prime Minister. That's what they meant by Broken Britain."

In the time-honoured fashion of prime ministers down the ages, David Cameron responded by accusing his opponent of "opportunism". Few were impressed by his decison to highlight Miliband's authorship of Labour's manifesto (after all, Cameron wrote the 2005 Conservative manifesto), but his riposte on housing benefit left the shadow cabinet blushing.

Quoting from Labour's 2010 manifesto, he noted the party's promise "to ensure that we do not subsidise people to live in the private sector on rents that other ordinary working families could not afford". One sensed that few on the opposition benches had an adequate reply to that.

But it was a below-the-belt punch from Miliband that left Cameron really smarting. The PM struggled to disguise his irritation at Miliband's decision to raise the appointment of his campaign photographer to a civil service post and failed to rebut the charge that he had wasted taxpayers' money. He eventually countered with a decent Gordon Brown gag ("We'll be spending a bit less on mobile telephones in Downing Street"), but the damage had been done.

Miliband had the best of the exchanges, but this foul-tempered encounter was a perfect example of why most of the public can't stand PMQs. By the end, neither leader could leave the Chamber with much credit.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.