PMQs review: Miliband's most confident performance yet

The Labour leader is finally starting to sound like a prime minister-in-waiting.

Rarely has Ed Miliband appeared as commanding as he did at today's PMQs. A telling moment came when, as David Cameron feebly attempted to deflect a question on last week's botched energy announcement, Miliband quipped: "If he wants to swap places, I'm very happy to do so." The Labour leader is finally starting to sound like a prime minister-in-waiting. He followed that up with a fine joke about "the great train snobbery": "It's not the ticket that needs upgrading, it's the Chancellor".

After struggling with questions on the energy shambles and the West Coast Mainline fiasco, Cameron, sounding ever more like Gordon Brown, implored Miliband to "talk about the real issues". In an effective riff, he declared: "inflation - down, unemployment - down, crime -  down, waiting lists - down, borrowing - down." Cameron added, in what sounded like an allusion to tomorrow's growth figures (which he will have seen), that "the good news will keep coming". But if, as expected, Britain officially exits recession tomorrow, he should be wary of boasting too much. The Q3 figures will be artificially inflated by the bounce back from the extra bank holiday in the previous quarter (which reduced growth by an estimated 0.5 per cent) and by the inclusion of the Olympic ticket sales (which are expected to add around 0.2 per cent to GDP). So, if the ONS announces that the economy grew by 0.8 per cent in the third quarter, the underlying rate of growth will be just 0.1 per cent. In addition, many forecasters expect the economy to contract in the fourth quarter. Cameron could soon have a "triple-dip recession" on his hands.

It was a Labour MP who eventually asked the question that is preoccupying Tory minds today: will the government grant prisoners the right to vote? Cameron's unambiguous response was that "prisoners are not getting the vote under this government", with the PM suggesting that MPs could vote again on the matter. His words leave the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, who this morning argued that the government should comply with the European Court of Human Right's ruling on the subject, distinctly lacking in authority.

Ed Miliband addresses a TUC anti-cuts rally last weekend in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Will the House of Lords block Brexit?

Process, and a desire to say "I told you so" will be the real battle lines. 

It’s the people versus the peers, at least as far as some overly-excited Brexiteers are concerned. The bill to trigger Article 50 starts its passage through the House of Lords today, and with it, a row about the unelected chamber and how it ought to behave as far as Brexit is concerned.

This week will, largely, be sound and fury. More peers have signed up to speak than since Tony Blair got rid of the bulk of hereditary peers, triggering a 200-peer long queue of parliamentarians there to rage against the dying of the light, before, inevitably, the Commons prevailed over the Lords.

And to be frank, the same is ultimately going to happen with Article 50. From former SDPers, now either Labour peers or Liberal Democrat peers, who risked their careers over Europe, to the last of the impeccably pro-European Conservatives, to committed Labour and Liberal politicians, there are a number of pro-Europeans who will want to make their voices heard before bowing to the inevitable. Others, too, will want to have their “I told you so” on record should it all go belly-up.

The real battle starts next week, when the bill enters committee stage, and it is then that peers will hope to extract concessions from the government, either through defeat in the Lords or the threat of defeat in the Lords. Opposition peers will aim to secure concessions on the process of the talks, rather than to frustrate the exit.

But there are some areas where the government may be forced to give way. The Lords will seek to codify the government’s promise of a vote on the deal and to enshrine greater parliamentary scrutiny of the process, which is hard to argue against, and the government may concede that quarterly statements to the House on the process of Brexit are a price worth paying, and will, in any case, be a concession they end up making further down the line anyway.

But the big prize is the rights of EU citizens already resident here.  The Lords has the advantage of having the overwhelming majority of the public – and the promises of every senior Leaver during the referendum campaign – behind them on that issue. When the unelected chamber faces down the elected, they like to have the weight of public opinion behind them so this is a well-chosen battleground.

But as Alex Barker explains in today’s FT, the rights of citizens aren’t as easy to guarantee as they look. Do pensions count? What about the children of EU citizens? What about access to social security and health? Rights that are easy to protect in the UK are more fraught in Spain, for instance. What about a British expat, working in, say, Italy, married to an Italian, who divorces, but wishes to remain in Italy afterwards? There is general agreement on all sides that the rights of Brits living in the rest of the EU and citizens of the EU27 living here need to be respected and guaranteed. But that even areas of broad agreement are the subject of fraught negotiation shows why those “I told you sos”  may come in handy sooner than we think.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.