PMQs review: Cameron and Miliband stick to the script

As the economy worsens, both leaders are holding out for eventual victory.

Fortunately for David Cameron, parliament was in recess when last week's terrible employment figures were published, but Ed Miliband was determined not to let him escape. Playing his favourite game of "ask the Prime Minister a question he doesn't know the answer to", Miliband asked Cameron how much long-term youth unemployment had risen by since he scrapped the Future Jobs Fund in March. Cameron didn't know the answer (77 per cent) but he did know that youth unmployment rose by 40 per cent under Labour and that David Miliband (a man he quotes at every available opportunity) had assured him that "this government did not invent the problem".

Miliband lamented the PM's complacency and urged him to tax bankers' bonuses to create a 100,000 jobs for young people. But Cameron hit back with a potent stat of his own. Labour, he claimed, had pledged to use the revenue from the tax for nine separate causes. It was "the bank tax that likes to say yes". The snappy soundbite roused the Tory benches but Miliband had a new line of his own. Cameron was blaming others again, it's his ABC - Anyone But Cameron. At least some Tory ministers will have discreetly nodded in agreement.

For the rest of the session, the two leaders stuck to the script. Miliband accused Cameron of treating unemployment as "a price worth paying to protect his failed plan", while Cameron asked why Labour alone believed that the solution to a debt crisis was more debt. What he omitted to mention was that his own government is set to borrow £109bn more than forecast at the time of the Spending Review. Labour's old charge that you can't have a credible deficit reduction plan without growth rings truer every day.

Cameron's response will be to argue that things would have been even worse under Labour, a claim that Miliband, in the absence of a time machine, can never wholly refute. Today's flat and repetitive exchanges were a reminder that the economic battle might not end in victory for one side but in a messy draw.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Jeremy Corbyn secures big victory on Labour's national executive committee

The NEC has approved rule changes which all-but-guarantee the presence of a Corbynite candidate on the ballot. 

Jeremy Corbyn has secured a major victory after Labour’s ruling executive voted approve a series of rule changes, including lowering the parliamentary threshold for nominating a leader of the Labour party from 15 per cent to 10 per cent. That means that in the event of a leadership election occurring before March 2019, the number of MPs and MEPs required to support a candidate’s bid would drop to 28. After March 2019, there will no longer be any Labour MEPs and the threshold would therefore drop to 26.

As far as the balance of power within the Labour Party goes, it is a further example of Corbyn’s transformed position after the electoral advance of June 2017. In practice, the 28 MP and MEP threshold is marginally easier to clear for the left than the lower threshold post-March 2019, as the party’s European contingent is slightly to the left of its Westminster counterpart. However, either number should be easily within the grasp of a Corbynite successor.

In addition, a review of the party’s democratic structures, likely to recommend a sweeping increase in the power of Labour activists, has been approved by the NEC, and both trade unions and ordinary members will be granted additional seats on the committee. Although the plans face ratification at conference, it is highly likely they will pass.

Participants described the meeting as a largely low-key affair, though Peter Willsman, a Corbynite, turned heads by saying that some of the party’s MPs “deserve to be attacked”. Willsman, a longtime representative of the membership, is usually a combative presence on the party’s executive, with one fellow Corbynite referring to him as an “embarrassment and a bore”. 

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.