PMQs review: Miliband puts Cameron on the back foot

Cameron looked evasive as he responded to Miliband's call for a limit on MPs' outside earnings with a reheated attack on the unions.

After last week's mauling, Ed Miliband arrived well-armed at today's PMQs. He swiftly challenged David Cameron to say whether he would accept his proposal of a £5,000 cap on all party donations (as revealed on The Staggers this morning) and of new limits on MPs' outside earnings. Cameron responded by rejecting a £5,000 cap on the grounds that it would imply "a massive amount of taxpayer support", a challenge Miliband will have to confront (some will argue that parties should simply cut their costs), but his answer on second jobs was far weaker.

In a proposal not included in his speech yesterday (he wisely held some ammunition back), Miliband asked the PM whether he agreed that "MPs should not be able to take on new paid directorships and consultancies". Cameron responded with a tokenistic attack on the unions that looked like a fairly obvious attempt to change the subject. Miliband had the confidence of a man certain that, on this issue, the public are on his side. It was only later in the session, in response to a question from Labour MP Phil Wilson, that Cameron offered a principled defence on second jobs, arguing that parliament benefits from figures such as Jack Straw and David Blunkett who have such interests.

After Miliband's speech yesterday, his claim that the Labour leader "doesn't want to talk about the trade unions stitching up Parliamentary selections" no longer rings true. Miliband also made it clear that he will use the Tories' opposition to a cap on donatiosn to frame them as the party of "big money", pointing out that the Conservatives had received £25m in funding from hedge funds who in turn received a tax cut of £145m in the Budget. 

As an aside, it is worth noting a furore at the start of the session when Cameron wrongly described Andy Murray as the "first British player" to win Wimbledon for 77 years (forgetting Virginia Wade). With Labour MPs crying Wade's name, Miliband smartly took the opportunity to correct his error as soon as he stood up. 

Ed Miliband delivers his speech on the Labour-trade union link at The St Bride Foundation in London yesterday. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

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.

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