PMQs review: the problem for Miliband is that the numbers are moving in Cameron's favour

In politics, trajectory is everything. The return of growth and falling unemployment means that Miliband now struggles to discomfort the PM.

So long as growth was falling and unemployment was rising, Ed Miliband could comfortably secure victory at PMQs by declaring that David Cameron had failed on the economy. The problem for Miliband and Labour is that the numbers are now moving in the right direction. Economically speaking, there may be little difference between a growing economy and a stagnant one, but politically speaking, there is all the difference in the world.

As a result, it has become much harder for Miliband to discomfort Cameron. Today's session was a wounding one for the Labour leader, with the PM landing blow after blow and Miliband falling back on the old charge of "complacency". Cameron replied, rather effectively, that "real complacency is promising to end boom and bust". Later, Miliband declared that it was George Osborne who "choked off the recovery" in 2010 but if a week is a long time in politics, that is now ancient history. 

Miliband went on to point out that wages had fallen in real terms for 38 of the 39 months that Cameron had been Prime Minister (the one exception being April 2013 when deferred bonuses were paid out to benefit from the cut in the top rate of tax). But the problem for him is that he has yet to clearly explain how Labour would improve living standards. Cameron was able to quote Alistair Darling's remark that he was "waiting to hear" what the party had to say on the economy. The other danger for Labour is that is now not inconceivable that wages could move decisively ahead of prices before the election. 

While at times veering into Flashman mode, Cameron's one-liners meant he had the Tory backbenches behind him today. He declared that Miliband's speeches were "so poor" that "it's hard to know when he's finished" and concluded (in reference to the TUC): "he promised us Raging Bull, he gave us Chicken Run" (a prize to whichever Tory scripted that). 

Miliband's strongest moment came when he referenced Michael Gove's comments on foodbanks ("It's often as a result of some decisions that have been taken by those families which mean that they are not best able to manage their finances.") and asked the coalition frontbench: "have you ever tried living on £150 a week?" But it says much about Cameron's increased confidence, that he didn't even break a sweat. 

David Cameron and Ed Miliband walk through the Members' Lobby to listen to the Queen's Speech at the State Opening of Parliament on May 8, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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“We can’t run away from Brexit”: Labour MP Bambos Charalambous warns his party

The new MP for Enfield Southgate on how he won a Tory seat, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, and being a celebrity in Cyprus.

Enfield Southgate is an iconic location in election night history. It was this suburban tip of north London that played host to 1997’s “Portillo moment”, when the then Defence Secretary Michael Portillo – tipped to be Tory leader – lost his seat in a shock defeat. Stephen Twigg, the Labour candidate who won with a 17.4 per cent swing, became the rather stunned face of Labour’s landslide.

Twenty years later, the constituency went unexpectedly to Labour again. Bambos Charalambous, a local councillor for 23 years who attended the ’97 count, defeated the Conservative David Burrowes who had been MP there since 2005.

As the first MP of full Cypriot descent, Charalambous has been warmly invited into the BME MPs’ WhatsApp group. But he doesn’t have an office yet, so he’s squatting in his old friend Twigg’s office. Luckily, as a housing lawyer, “I know my rights,” he jokes. He was a solicitor on Hackney Council’s housing litigation team until he was elected.

We settle instead at a table in Parliament’s glass-walled Portcullis House. Charalambous – whose full name is so wonderful that the Huffington Post points out you can sing it to “Copacabana” and “Mambo Italiano” – looks smart in a suit and silky maroon tie. He is also very tanned; he took his parents on holiday to Rome at the beginning of the campaign – booked for their anniversary before the election was called.

“I’m very popular in Cyprus at the moment”

Brought up in Enfield, which has a large Cypriot community, Charalambous has lived there all his life. He’s now a bit of a local celebrity; his friends and family have started taking pictures with him at every opportunity.

“I’m very popular in Cyprus at the moment,” he says, rather deadpan. “It’s a bit surreal when your relatives are asking for selfies with you. My cousin had a christening a couple of weeks ago, and my cousins and uncles and aunts wanted selfies with me. I was like, ‘Are you guys insane? You’ve got pictures of me wearing shorts and stuff!’ So it’s quite amusing.”

To be fair, they’ve been waiting a while to celebrate. Charalambous ran for the seat in 2010 and 2015, but couldn’t beat the Tories. And abysmal polling for Labour initially suggested this wouldn’t change.

“People told me at the start of the campaign, ‘you’re mad, you shouldn’t run, you’re going to ruin your reputation’,” he reveals. “I was like, ‘I don’t care what you say, I’ve run before and I think I deserve to give it another go, and you never know what’s going to happen’.”

“I was initially sceptical about Jeremy. I’m happy to say I’ve been proved wrong”

He won the seat by 4,355 votes, with a swing of 9.7 per cent, and gives a variety of reasons for his victory. Firstly, he was a Remainer running in a pro-EU seat (63 per cent voted Remain) against a Brexiteer Tory. He also found “young people enthused” by the campaign and “dragging” their parents out to vote, which he hadn’t seen before. Local schools are facing budget cuts, and he felt the Tories’ “complacency” about the problem harmed them electorally.

But he also has Jeremy Corbyn to thank. “The manifesto was fantastic,” he says. “I think Jeremy as the leader, he came into his own during the election period and his stature just grew and grew and he will be a credible Prime Minister . . . through the television debates, people could finally see he could answer questions directly. He wasn't fazed by them, and gave good answers and had something to say. He also gave a vision of hope and optimism.”

Although Charalambous supported Andy Burnham to be Labour leader in 2015, he now gives Corbyn his “100 per cent support”. “I didn’t have a problem with the policies. I was initially sceptical about whether Jeremy could be a strong, credible leader,” he admits. “Clearly he is. I’m happy to say I’ve been proved wrong . . . If there were an election tomorrow, or in a few months down the line, Jeremy will be Prime Minister.”

Charalambous says a lot of his constituents who are EU nationals, or have European partners, are worried about their future. He will be focusing on this, and says Brexit should “clearly” be a priority for Labour. He warns his party that, “we can’t run away from Brexit; that’s a big priority”.

But even before he’s spoken up in the Commons about the stickiest subject in British politics, his name is already up there “with the greats”, he grins. “Barry Manilow – ‘Copacabana’”.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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