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 He eventually replied that the government had already withdrawn Britain from the EU bailout fund and that Miliband had once said of the possibility of Britain joining the euro: "It depends how long I'm prime minister for".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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Will Jeremy Corbyn stand down if Labour loses the general election?

Defeat at the polls might not be the end of Corbyn’s leadership.

The latest polls suggest that Labour is headed for heavy defeat in the June general election. Usually a general election loss would be the trigger for a leader to quit: Michael Foot, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband all stood down after their first defeat, although Neil Kinnock saw out two losses before resigning in 1992.

It’s possible, if unlikely, that Corbyn could become prime minister. If that prospect doesn’t materialise, however, the question is: will Corbyn follow the majority of his predecessors and resign, or will he hang on in office?

Will Corbyn stand down? The rules

There is no formal process for the parliamentary Labour party to oust its leader, as it discovered in the 2016 leadership challenge. Even after a majority of his MPs had voted no confidence in him, Corbyn stayed on, ultimately winning his second leadership contest after it was decided that the current leader should be automatically included on the ballot.

This year’s conference will vote on to reform the leadership selection process that would make it easier for a left-wing candidate to get on the ballot (nicknamed the “McDonnell amendment” by centrists): Corbyn could be waiting for this motion to pass before he resigns.

Will Corbyn stand down? The membership

Corbyn’s support in the membership is still strong. Without an equally compelling candidate to put before the party, Corbyn’s opponents in the PLP are unlikely to initiate another leadership battle they’re likely to lose.

That said, a general election loss could change that. Polling from March suggests that half of Labour members wanted Corbyn to stand down either immediately or before the general election.

Will Corbyn stand down? The rumours

Sources close to Corbyn have said that he might not stand down, even if he leads Labour to a crushing defeat this June. They mention Kinnock’s survival after the 1987 general election as a precedent (although at the 1987 election, Labour did gain seats).

Will Corbyn stand down? The verdict

Given his struggles to manage his own MPs and the example of other leaders, it would be remarkable if Corbyn did not stand down should Labour lose the general election. However, staying on after a vote of no-confidence in 2016 was also remarkable, and the mooted changes to the leadership election process give him a reason to hold on until September in order to secure a left-wing succession.

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