PMQs review: Miliband pins Cameron down on Europe

Which EU powers does he want back and when? Cameron couldn't answer.

A particularly ill-tempered PMQs today, with David Cameron hurling abuse at Ed Miliband in a bid to remind his MPs that it's the Labour leader, not him, they should be attacking. "The split that we have is between the Rt Hon Gentleman and reality," cried the Prime Minister, branding Miliband a "complete mug" for not wanting to repatriate powers from Europe.

But while the PM has pledged to bring back powers, he hasn't, as Miliband smartly noted, said which powers and when. To add to the confusion, Nick Clegg has declared: "It's not going to happen ... You don't change Europe by launching some smash-and-grab dawn raid on Brussels." What is the government's policy? Cameron clearly didn't want to answer the question because he absurdly attacked Miliband for moving on "to the politics", as if the subject had no place in the House of Commons. He eventually replied that the government had already withdrawn Britain from the EU bailout fund and that Miliband had once said of the possibility of Britain joining the euro: "It depends how long I'm prime minister for".

All good knockabout stuff but not, you suspect, the answer that the 81 EU rebels were looking for. They have already warned Cameron against raising unrealistic expectations by vowing to repatriate powers within the lifetime of this parliament. As Miliband noted, the coalition agreement offers no clarity on this point, promising only a "referendum lock" on any future EU treaties. Cameron can't say which powers he wants back because to do so would enrage either the Lib Dems or the Tories (or possibly both).

But despite his smart line of questioning, this didn't feel like a victory for the Labour leader. By the end, Cameron's arsenal of insults ("I might have had a problem on Monday, I think he's got a problem on Wednesday) had roused the Tory backbenches and Labour's own lack of clarity meant several of Miliband's attack lines fell flat. For now, there is little to be gained for either leader in arguing about Europe.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Metro mayors can help Labour return to government

Labour champions in the new city regions can help their party at the national level too.

2017 will mark the inaugural elections of directly-elected metro mayors across England. In all cases, these mayor and cabinet combined authorities are situated in Labour heartlands, and as such Labour should look confidently at winning the whole slate.

Beyond the good press winning again will generate, these offices provide an avenue for Labour to showcase good governance, and imperatively, provide vocal opposition to the constraints of local government by Tory cuts.

The introduction of the Mayor of London in 2000 has provided a blueprint for how the media can provide a platform for media-friendly leadership. It has also demonstrated the ease that the office allows for attribution of successes to that individual and party – or misappropriated in context of Boris Bikes and to a lesser extent the London Olympics.

While without the same extent of the powers of the sui generis mayor of the capital, the prospect of additional metro-mayors provide an opportunity for replicating these successes while providing experience for Labour big-hitters to develop themselves in government. This opportunity hasn’t gone unnoticed, and after Sadiq Khan’s victory in London has shown that the role can grow beyond the limitations – perceived or otherwise - of the Corbyn shadow cabinet while strengthening team Labour’s credibility by actually being in power.

Shadow Health Secretary and former leadership candidate Andy Burnham’s announcement last week for Greater Manchester was the first big hitter to make his intention known. The rising star of Luciana Berger, another member of Labour’s health team, is known to be considering a run in the Liverpool City Region. Could we also see them joined by the juggernaut of Liam Byrne in the West Midlands, or next-generation Catherine McKinnell in the North East?

If we can get a pantheon of champions elected across these city regions, to what extent can this have an influence on national elections? These new metro areas represent around 11.5 million people, rising to over 20 million if you include Sadiq’s Greater London. While no doubt that is an impressive audience that our Labour pantheon are able to demonstrate leadership to, there are limitations. 80 of the 94 existing Westminster seats who are covered under the jurisdiction of the new metro-mayors are already Labour seats. While imperative to solidify our current base for any potential further electoral decline, in order to maximise the impact that this team can have on Labour’s resurgence there needs to be visibility beyond residents.

The impact of business is one example where such influence can be extended. Andy Burnham for example has outlined his case to make Greater Manchester the creative capital of the UK. According to the ONS about 150,000 people commute into Greater Manchester, which is two constituency’s worth of people that can be directly influenced by the Mayor of Greater Manchester.

Despite these calculations and similar ones that can be made in other city-regions, the real opportunity with selecting the right Labour candidates is the media impact these champion mayors can make on the national debate. This projects the influence from the relatively-safe Labour regions across the country. This is particularly important to press the blame of any tightening of belts in local fiscal policy on the national Tory government’s cuts. We need individuals who have characteristics of cabinet-level experience, inspiring leadership, high profile campaigning experience and tough talking opposition credentials to support the national party leadership put the Tory’s on the narrative back foot.

That is not to say there are not fine local council leaders and technocrats who’s experience and governance experience at vital to Labour producing local successes. But the media don’t really care who number two is, and these individuals are best serving the national agenda for the party if they support A-listers who can shine a bright spotlight on our successes and Tory mismanagement.

If Jeremy Corbyn and the party are able to topple the Conservatives come next election, then all the better that we have a diverse team playing their part both on the front bench and in the pantheon of metro-mayors. If despite our best efforts Jeremy’s leadership falls short, then we will have experienced leaders in waiting who have been able to afford some distance from the front-bench, untainted and able to take the party’s plan B forward.