PMQs review: Miliband struggles to convince

The Labour leader failed to get the better of Cameron over the EU budget.

With Lib Dem and Tory ministers at war over wind farms, Michael Heseltine attacking the government for its lack of a growth strategy, and David Cameron facing a backbench rebellion over the EU budget, today's PMQs should have been an easy win for Ed Miliband. But, for the first time in weeks, the Labour leader struggled to land a blow.

Miliband challenged Cameron's refusal to support a real-terms cut in the EU budget , but with little conviction. Indeed, one wondered if he was entirely convinced by his party's new stance. After Cameron angrily declared that the nation would "see through" Labour's position, Miliband quipped, "It’s good to see the crimson tide back", but the line, last used the previous week, fell painfully flat. Instead it was Cameron who was greeted by cheers from his MPs as he vowed to use the UK's veto to block an above-inflation increase in the EU budget. His question - would Miliband really veto a freeze in the budget? - was an apposite one.

After chosing to split his questions, Miliband fared better when he turned to Heseltine's report. The confusion over the government's wind farms policy allowed him to highlight the former deputy prime minister's demand for a "definitive and unambiguous" energy policy, and Cameron's eventual retort - "he's no Michael Heseltine" - rather missed the point. But even in this instance, Miliband's long-winded questions meant the PM rarely looked uncomfortable. "I'm rather enjoying this, Mr Speaker," said Miliband at one point. But as with much of what he said today, one wasn't convinced.

Labour leader Ed Miliband walks through Hyde Park after addressing TUC members earlier this month. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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No, Jeremy Corbyn did not refuse to condemn the IRA. Please stop saying he did

Guys, seriously.

Okay, I’ll bite. Someone’s gotta say it, so really might as well be me:

No, Jeremy Corbyn did not, this weekend, refuse to condemn the IRA. And no, his choice of words was not just “and all other forms of racism” all over again.

Can’t wait to read my mentions after this one.

Let’s take the two contentions there in order. The claim that Corbyn refused to condem the IRA relates to his appearance on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme yesterday. (For those who haven’t had the pleasure, it’s a weekly political programme, hosted by Sophy Ridge and broadcast on a Sunday. Don’t say I never teach you anything.)

Here’s how Sky’s website reported that interview:

 

The first paragraph of that story reads:

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised after he refused five times to directly condemn the IRA in an interview with Sky News.

The funny thing is, though, that the third paragraph of that story is this:

He said: “I condemn all the bombing by both the loyalists and the IRA.”

Apparently Jeremy Corbyn has been so widely criticised for refusing to condemn the IRA that people didn’t notice the bit where he specifically said that he condemned the IRA.

Hasn’t he done this before, though? Corbyn’s inability to say he that opposed anti-semitism without appending “and all other forms of racism” was widely – and, to my mind, rightly – criticised. These were weasel words, people argued: an attempt to deflect from a narrow subject where the hard left has often been in the wrong, to a broader one where it wasn’t.

Well, that pissed me off too: an inability to say simply “I oppose anti-semitism” made it look like he did not really think anti-semitism was that big a problem, an impression not relieved by, well, take your pick.

But no, to my mind, this....

“I condemn all the bombing by both the loyalists and the IRA.”

...is, despite its obvious structural similarities, not the same thing.

That’s because the “all other forms of racism thing” is an attempt to distract by bringing in something un-related. It implies that you can’t possibly be soft on anti-semitism if you were tough on Islamophobia or apartheid, and experience shows that simply isn’t true.

But loyalist bombing were not unrelated to IRA ones: they’re very related indeed. There really were atrocities committed on both sides of the Troubles, and while the fatalities were not numerically balanced, neither were they orders of magnitude apart.

As a result, specifically condemning both sides as Corbyn did seems like an entirely reasonable position to take. Far creepier, indeed, is to minimise one set of atrocities to score political points about something else entirely.

The point I’m making here isn’t really about Corbyn at all. Historically, his position on Northern Ireland has been pro-Republican, rather than pro-peace, and I’d be lying if I said I was entirely comfortable with that.

No, the point I’m making is about the media, and its bias against Labour. Whatever he may have said in the past, whatever may be written on his heart, yesterday morning Jeremy Corbyn condemned IRA bombings. This was the correct thing to do. His words were nonetheless reported as “Jeremy Corbyn refuses to condemn IRA”.

I mean, I don’t generally hold with blaming the mainstream media for politicians’ failures, but it’s a bit rum isn’t it?

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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