PMQs review: a narrow win for Miliband

Miliband embarrasses Cameron on growth but stumbles on Ed Balls and Andy Coulson.

To give David Cameron his due, he managed to say what George Osborne could not at today's PMQs. After his Chancellor's "leaves on the line" excuse for yesterday's disastrous growth figures, the Prime Minister admitted that the news was "disappointing" even when "you've excluded what the ONS say about the extreme weather".

Had Ed Miliband failed to get the better of the PM today, one could reasonably argue that he shouldn't be in the business of politics. And, with the exception of one notable misstep, he didn't fail.

Cameron repeated his mantra that "if you don't deal with your debts, you'll never have growth". To which the Labour leader, quick as a flash, shot back: "If you don't have growth, you'll never cut the deficit." Though few Conservatives will admit as much, the facts support Miliband. The deficit for 2009-2010 came in at £156.3bn (£21.7bn lower than the original Treasury forecast), a sign that Labour's policy of "going for growth" was beginning to fill the hole in the public finances.

The Prime Minister may have repeated his complaint that Miliband's lines were pre-scripted, but they were no less effective for it: "The difference was that when we left office, the economy was growing, now he's in office and it isn't", "He knows how to cut jobs but has no idea how to create them", and "It's hurting but it isn't working" (an inversion of John Major's memorable slogan "It hurt but it worked").

Cameron's insistence that we should be grateful that Britain is no longer linked with "countries like Greece and Ireland and Portugal" is less impressive when one recalls that the same man boasted that the recovery was gaining momentum under his government.

Miliband stumbled when he contrasted his wise decision to appoint Ed Balls as shadow chancellor with Cameron's foolish decision to cling to Andy Coulson. The PM was liberated to deliver his finest riposte since "son of Brown": if Miliband thinks Balls is such a good man, why didn't he appoint him in the first place?

Cameron just about shrugged off Miliband's claim that he is "arrogant" and "out of touch with people's lives", but it was the Labour benches who cheered when the Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, resplendent in a double-breasted suit, invited the Prime Minister to endorse Margaret Thatcher's view that "there is no alternative". The PM squirmed in his seat but rose to provide Rees-Mogg with the answer he was looking for. Labour MPs were left to cheer the political equivalent of an own goal.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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