Cameron and Miliband at odds over Brown’s IMF bid

Labour leader insists Gordon Brown would be a “strong candidate” after PM vows to block any bid.

David Cameron has made waves this morning with his hint that he would block any attempt by Gordon Brown to become the new head of the International Monetary Fund. With classic English understatement, he told the Today programme that Brown "might not be the most appropriate person to work out whether other countries around the world have debt and deficit problems".

He added: "Above all, what matters is that the person running the IMF [is] someone who understands the dangers of excessive debt, excessive deficit, and it really must be someone who gets that, rather than someone who says that they don't see a problem."

The reason this issue has arisen now is that Brown was openly networking at last week's economic conference in Bretton Woods, birthplace of the IMF. He is now routinely described as the "favourite" to take over from Dominique Strauss-Kahn, whose considerable talents are badly needed by the French Socialist Party.

DSK, as he's known in France, is due to step down in November 2012 but may quit earlier to stand in next year's presidential election.

At this morning's press conference at Labour HQ, Ed Miliband was asked to respond to Cameron's comments. He said the Prime Minister was "slightly jumping the gun" because there isn't a vacancy at the IMF, but added that Brown was "eminently qualified" for the job and would be a "strong candidate".

It would have been heretical for the Labour leader to say anything else, but he has handed Cameron another opportunity to play his favourite "son of Brown" riff.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.