PMQs review: Miliband targets Cameron’s “broken promises”

The Labour leader’s new attack line of choice is a smart one.

Rarely have the Conservative benches cheered David Cameron as loudly as they did today. As the PM declared, ahead of tomorrow's local elections, "Don't let Labour do to your council what they did to the country," his MPs cried: "More! More!" It was further evidence that Cameron's stock, largely thanks to his robust interventions in the AV debate, has risen in recent weeks.

Today's bout saw Ed Miliband return to to the theme of "broken promises" – his new attack of line of choice. On police cuts, he highlighted Cameron's past pledge that any minister who proposed front-line reductions would be "sent straight back to their department to go away and think again".

Yet 2,100 officers with more than 30 years' experience are now being forced to retire. One of them, Martin Heard, was humiliatingly asked to return as an unpaid volunteer. As on previous occasions, Cameron simply passed the buck and said that police numbers would not fall if local forces made greater efficiency savings.

On tuition fees, Miliband accused the coalition of a trio of broken promises:

  1. The (Lib Dem) pledge that tuition fees would not rise.
  2. The pledge that universities would only charge £9,000 in "exceptional circumstances".
  3. The pledge that Office for Fair Access (OFFA) would cut excessive fees.

In response, Cameron pointed out that the last Labour government broke its pledge not to introduce top-up fees (true enough, but two wrongs . . .) and that degrees had always cost £9,000. The only difference, he said, was that the taxpayer, not the student, picked up the tab.

In the past, Cameron has simply argued that the deficit made higher fees unavoidable; this more ideological defence will have cheered his backbenchers. But the PM still won't drop the false claim that the OFFA has the power to limit fees. As Miliband pointed out, David Barrett, the assistant director of the OFFA, has admitted: "We are not a fee-pricing regulator, that is not our role."

Politically speaking, Miliband's decision to highlight the coalition's "broken promises" is a smart one. Voters might be divided on the cuts, but both the left and the right will nod in agreement when he accuses the coalition of misleading the public. The Labour leader also made an early bid to exploit the coalition's growing internal strife. The two parties, he said, had gone from "working together in the national interest" to "threatening to sue each other in their own interests".

As every psephologist knows, voters never warm to a divided government.

But the most notable thing about today's PMQs was how utterly miserable Nick Clegg looked. His nodding-dog routine has been replaced by a permanent frown. As Cameron reeled off a list of the coalition's achievements, Clegg remained impassive. But whether this is a tactical ruse or further evidence of genuine discontent remains to be seen.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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For the Ukip press officer I slept with, the European Union was Daddy

My Ukip lover just wanted to kick against authority. I do not know how he would have coped with the reality of Brexit.

I was a journalist for a progressive newspaper.

He was the press officer for the UK Independence Party.

He was smoking a cigarette on the pavement outside the Ukip conference in Bristol.

I sat beside him. It was a scene from a terrible film. 

He wore a tweed Sherlock Holmes coat. The general impression was of a seedy-posh bat who had learned to talk like Shere Khan. He was a construct: a press officer so ridiculous that, by comparison, Ukip supporters seemed almost normal. He could have impersonated the Queen Mother, or a morris dancer, or a British bulldog. It was all bravado and I loved him for that.

He slept in my hotel room, and the next day we held hands in the public gallery while people wearing Union Jack badges ranted about the pound. This was before I learned not to choose men with my neurosis alone. If I was literally embedded in Ukip, I was oblivious, and I was no kinder to the party in print than I would have been had I not slept with its bat-like press officer. How could I be? On the last day of the conference, a young, black, female supporter was introduced to the audience with the words – after a white male had rubbed the skin on her hand – “It doesn’t come off.” Another announcement was: “The Ukip Mondeo is about to be towed away.” I didn’t take these people seriously. He laughed at me for that.

After conference, I moved into his seedy-posh 18th-century house in Totnes, which is the counterculture capital of Devon. It was filled with crystal healers and water diviners. I suspect now that his dedication to Ukip was part of his desire to thwart authority, although this may be my denial about lusting after a Brexiteer who dressed like Sherlock Holmes. But I prefer to believe that, for him, the European Union was Daddy, and this compulsion leaked into his work for Ukip – the nearest form of authority and the smaller Daddy.

He used to telephone someone called Roger from in front of a computer with a screen saver of two naked women kissing, lying about what he had done to promote Ukip. He also told me, a journalist, disgusting stories about Nigel Farage that I cannot publish because they are libellous.

When I complained about the pornographic screen saver and said it was damaging to his small son, he apologised with damp eyes and replaced it with a photo of a topless woman with her hand down her pants.

It was sex, not politics, that broke us. I arrived on Christmas Eve to find a photograph of a woman lying on our bed, on sheets I had bought for him. That was my Christmas present. He died last year and I do not know how he would have coped with the reality of Brexit, of Daddy dying, too – for what would be left to desire?

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era