PMQs review: Miliband's finest performance

The Labour leader finally found his voice today.

Does Ed Miliband, like Tony Blair and David Cameron, perform best when his back is against the wall? On the basis of today's PMQs, the answer is yes. This was the Labour leader's finest performance for months. Rarely has he sounded so passionate and authentic on the economy. He tore into Cameron and George Osborne ("a byword for self-satisfied smug complacency") with cathartic force and the Prime Minister was visibly unnerved.

And why wouldn't he be? The economy is shrinking, unemployment is heading towards three million and the national debt has reached £1 trillion. Yet as recently as June 2010, Osborne was promising a "a steady and sustained economic recovery, with low inflation and falling unemployment". Cameron reeled off a litany of traditional excuses ("the overhang of the debt and the deficit", "higher food and fuel prices", "the crisis in the eurozone") but was unable to rebut the central charge that his policies have only made things worse. He accused Miliband of failing to take responsibility for Labour's "mess" but soon he will be forced to take responsibility for his own.

Some will question why Miliband chose to split his questions - the final three were on the NHS - when he had Cameron on the ropes. But it was the right decision. The NHS, which, lest we forget, employs 1.4 million people, is once again becoming a headache for the coalition and Miliband seized an opportunity to heighten the pain. Noting that the Prime Minister had boasted last September that his reforms were supported by GPs and nurses, the Labour leader asked him to provide "an update on the support for his bill from the medical profession."

With the British Medical Association, the Royal College of GPs, the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Midwives and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy all now calling for the bill to be dropped, Cameron could only cite the support of a lone GP in Doncaster. "What is good for Doncaster, is good for the rest of the country," he declared in a farcical riff.

The reality, as Miliband said, is that 98 per cent of GPs want the bill withdrawn. Once again denouncing Cameron's "arrogance" (a charge that has clearly been focus-grouped), he urged the PM to keep at least one promise and put an end to this "top-down reorganisation". Cameron, visibly beaten, scorned Labour for caving into the "trade unions" but he may yet regret picking a fight with the most powerful of them all.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Pity the Premier League – so much money can get you into all sorts of bother

You’ve got to feel sorry for our top teams. It's hard work, maintaining their brand.

I had lunch with an old girlfriend last week. Not old, exactly, just a young woman of 58, and not a girlfriend as such – though I have loads of female friends; just someone I knew as a girl on our estate in Cumbria when she was growing up and I was friendly with her family.

She was one of many kind, caring people from my past who wrote to me after my wife died in February, inviting me to lunch, cheer up the poor old soul. Which I’ve not been. So frightfully busy.

I never got round to lunch till last week.

She succeeded in her own career, became pretty well known, but not as well off financially as her husband, who is some sort of City whizz.

I visited her large house in the best part of Mayfair, and, over lunch, heard about their big estate in the West Country and their pile in Majorca, finding it hard to take my mind back to the weedy, runny-nosed little girl I knew when she was ten.

Their three homes employ 25 staff in total. Which means there are often some sort of staff problems.

How awful, I do feel sorry for you, must be terrible. It’s not easy having money, I said, managing somehow to keep back the fake tears.

Afterwards, I thought about our richest football teams – Man City, Man United and Chelsea. It’s not easy being rich like them, either.

In football, there are three reasons you have to spend the money. First of all, because you can. You have untold wealth, so you gobble up possessions regardless of the cost, and regardless of the fact that, as at Man United, you already have six other superstars playing in roughly the same position. You pay over the odds, as with Pogba, who is the most expensive player in the world, even though any halfwit knows that Messi and Ronaldo are infinitely more valuable. It leads to endless stresses and strains and poor old Wayne sitting on the bench.

Obviously, you are hoping to make the team better, and at the same time have the luxury of a whole top-class team sitting waiting on the bench, who would be desired by every other club in Europe. But the second reason you spend so wildly is the desire to stop your rivals buying the same players. It’s a spoiler tactic.

Third, there’s a very modern and stressful element to being rich in football, and that’s the need to feed the brand. Real Madrid began it ten years or so ago with their annual purchase of a galáctico. You have to refresh the team with a star name regularly, whatever the cost, if you want to keep the fans happy and sell even more shirts round the world each year.

You also need to attract PROUD SUPPLIERS OF LAV PAPER TO MAN CITY or OFFICIAL PROVIDER OF BABY BOTTLES TO MAN UNITED or PARTNERS WITH CHELSEA IN SUGARY DRINK. These suppliers pay a fortune to have their product associated with a famous Premier League club – and the club knows that, to keep up the interest, they must have yet another exciting £100m star lined up for each new season.

So, you can see what strains and stresses having mega money gets them into, trying to balance all these needs and desires. The manager will get the blame in the end when things start to go badly on the pitch, despite having had to accommodate some players he probably never craved. If you’re rich in football, or in most other walks in life, you have to show it, have all the required possessions, otherwise what’s the point of being rich?

One reason why Leicester did so well last season was that they had no money. This forced them to bond and work hard, make do with cheapo players, none of them rubbish, but none the sort of galáctico a super-Prem club would bother with.

Leicester won’t repeat that trick this year. It was a one-off. On the whole, the £100m player is better than the £10m player. The rich clubs will always come good. But having an enormous staff, at any level, is all such a worry for the rich. You have to feel sorry . . .

Hunter Davies’s “The Beatles Book” is published by Ebury

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories