Bad news for Cameron is not automatically good news for Miliband

Cameron's proximity to the phone-hacking scandal is damaging, but Miliband needs to be cautious in h

David Cameron is in for a rough few days. His former director of communications, Andy Coulson, is now accused of paying police for information. Coulson's involvement in phone-hacking resulted in his resignation; his alleged involvement in paying-off policemen, however, may result in prison.

This would be a bad break for any Prime Minister. But it doesn't stop there for Cameron. His flame-haired, horse riding buddy, Rebekah Brooks, is at the forefront of the Milly Dowler scandal.

Cameron has already stuck his neck out for Brooks once. According to Private Eye, Cameron talked Murdoch out of sacking Brooks earlier this year. Murdoch will be kicking himself.

On top of this, Cameron will face intense public pressure to put the kibosh on News Corporation's attempted takeover of BSkyB. If this doesn't go through, then Murdoch will be kicking Cameron.

Oh, and it's PMQs today, where Ed Miliband will no doubt give all the above issues a good airing.

Right now, what is bad for News International, is bad for Cameron. This does not mean, however, that it is all good news for Ed Miliband. Miliband has already called on Brooks to go. If - by some miracle - Brooks survives (and judging by the frantic briefing and counter-briefing that her, Coulson and Will Lewis are involved in, she is certainly trying to), this will be the second time since May that Miliband has called on someone close to Cameron to resign, only for them to turn and flick V's at him and stay exactly where they are.

As recently as two weeks ago, Miliband was happy to chomp on canapés with Brooks and co at the News International summer party. Cameron is up to his neck in News International's cesspit - but Miliband and Labour have certainly had a paddle. Miliband needs to be cautious and smart in his attacks on Cameron, and not look like he sprinting after a passing bandwagon. Cameron's proximity to the phone-hacking scandal has damaged him; Miliband need not lay it on too thick.

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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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