PMQs verdict: Cameron gets the better of muddled Harman

Labour's deputy leader played her trump card too late.

After trouncing Nick Clegg last week, Harriet Harman struggled to get the better of David Cameron at today's PMQs. She started well, demanding to know how many police officers the coalition's cuts will cost. Cameron ducked the question and simply responded, to groans from the House, that it would be up to individual forces to "maximise resources on the frontline."

Harman landed another blow when she reminded MPs that Cameron previously insisted that any minister who proposed cuts to "frontline services" would be sent back to "think again". But the Prime Minister countered with his own quote: when asked if Labour could guarantee that police numbers would not fall under its watch, the then home secretary, Alan Johnson, replied: "No".

At this point, the encounter was shaping up to be a scrappy score draw, but Labour's deputy leader soon lost her way after arguing that the £100m cost of hiring elected police commissioners would be better spent on more police officers. Harman's attack was sincere but the claim that we can't afford a more democratic and accountable force was unconvincing.

Harman's cause wasn't helped by her contemptuous reference to the coalition's "deficit reduction" plan. The coalition's cuts are economically reckless and regressive but her crude dismissal of the deficit allowed Cameron to score an easy open goal. It also won't have impressed that "instinctive cutter", Alan Johnson.

Labour's deputy leader left it until the end to play her trump card -- Cameron's U-turn on his vanity photographers. But the Prime Minister rallied with an assault on the many dubious characters employed by Labour, including Damian McBride. In response, Labour's backbenchers chanted: "Coulson, Coulson, Coulson". It was the obvious and correct riposte. As I've argued before, if Coulson did know about the phone-hacking then he's too wicked to stay in his post, and if he didn't know then he's too stupid.

But with all her questions used up, Harman missed another opportunity to pin Cameron down. Score this one for the Prime Minister.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The public like radical policies, but they aren't so keen on radical politicians

Around the world, support for genuinely revolutionary ideas is strong, but in the UK at least, there's less enthusiasm for the people promising them.

You’re probably a getting a little bored of the litany of talking head statistics: trust in elected officials, parliament, the justice system and even democracy itself has been falling steadily for years and is at record lows. Maybe you’ve seen that graph that shows how people born after 1980 are significantly less likely than those born in 1960 to think that living in a democracy is ‘essential’. You’ve possibly heard of the ‘Pasokification’ of the centre-left, so-named the collapse of the once dominant Greek social democratic party Pasok, a technique being aggressively pursued by other centre-left parties in Europe to great effect.    

And so, goes the logic, there is a great appetite for something different, something new. It’s true! The space into which Trump et al barged leaves plenty of room for others: Beppe Grillo in Italy, Spanish Podemos, Bernie Sanders, Jean Luc Melanchon, and many more to come.

In my new book Radicals I followed movements and ideas that in many cases make someone like Jeremy Corbyn seem positively pedestrian: people who want to dismantle the nation state entirely, use technology to live forever, go off grid. All these ideas are finding fertile ground with the frustrated, disillusioned, and idealistic. The challenges of coming down the line – forces of climate change, technological change, fiscal crunch, mass movements of people – will demand new types of political ideas. Radical, outsider thinking is back, and this does, in theory at least, offer a chink of light for Corbyn’s Labour.

Polling last week found pretty surprising levels of support for many of his ideas. A big tax on high earners, nationalising the railways, banning zero hours contracts and upping the minimum wage are all popular. Support for renewable energy is at an all-time high. According to a recent YouGov poll, Brits actually prefer socialism to capitalism, a sentiment most strongly held among younger people.

There are others ideas too, which Corbyn is probably less likely to go for. Stopping benefits entirely for people who refuse to accept an offer of employment is hugely popular, and in one recent poll over half of respondents would be happy with a total ban on all immigration for the next two years. Around half the public now consistently want marijuana legalised, a number that will surely swell as US states with licenced pot vendors start showing off their dazzling tax returns.

The BNP effect used to refer to the problem the far-right had with selling their ideas. Some of their policies were extremely popular with the public, until associated with the BNP. It seems as though the same problem is now afflicting the Labour brand. It’s not the radical ideas – there is now a genuine appetite for those who think differently – that’s the problem, it’s the person who’s tasked with delivering them, and not enough people think Corbyn can or should. The ideal politician for the UK today is quite possibly someone who is bold enough to have genuinely radical proposals and ideas, and yet appears extremely moderate, sensible and centrist in character and temperament. Perhaps some blend of Blair and Corbyn. Sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it? But this is politics, 2017. Anything is possible.

Jamie Bartlett is the head of the Violence and Extremism Programme and the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at Demos.

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