Jeremy Hunt refuses to condemn Daily Mail attacks on Ralph Miliband

The Health Secretary says Ed Milband's father was "no friend of the free market" as Clegg offers the Labour leader his support.

After the Daily Mail responded to Ed Miliband's defence of his father by reprinting the original smear piece ("We repeat this man DID hate Britain") and running an editorial entitled "An evil legacy and why we won't apologise", Conservative and Lib Dem ministers are rightly being challenged to condemn the paper.

Given the opportunity to do so on the Today programme this morning, David Cameron said: "I haven't read the original article, I haven't read the reply and so I'm not really in a good place to comment". He added: "All I know is if anyone had a go at my father I would want to respond very vigorously. There’s not a day goes by when you don’t think about your dad and all that he meant to you, so I completely understand why Ed would want to get his own point of view across."

But while Cameron's response was rather mealy-mouthed, Jeremy Hunt has gone even further, refusing to offer any criticism of the Mail and declaring on BBC News: "Ralph Miliband was no friend of the free market and I have never heard Ed Miliband say he supports it." When a man's dead father is being described as "evil", one might have thought that politics was a secondary issue, but not for Hunt.

Nick Clegg, by contrast, whose own family has been attacked by the Mail, has done the decent thing and offered his support to Miliband.

I support @Ed_Miliband defending his dad. Politics should be about playing the ball, not the man, certainly not the man's family.

— Nick Clegg (@nick_clegg) October 1, 2013

Shadow health secretary Jeremy Hunt speaks at the Conservative Spring Forum in 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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PMQs review: Theresa May shows how her confidence has grown

After her Brexit speech, the PM declared of Jeremy Corbyn: "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue". 

The woman derided as “Theresa Maybe” believes she has neutralised that charge. Following her Brexit speech, Theresa May cut a far more confident figure at today's PMQs. Jeremy Corbyn inevitably devoted all six of his questions to Europe but failed to land a definitive blow.

He began by denouncing May for “sidelining parliament” at the very moment the UK was supposedly reclaiming sovereignty (though he yesterday praised her for guaranteeing MPs would get a vote). “It’s not so much the Iron Lady as the irony lady,” he quipped. But May, who has sometimes faltered against Corbyn, had a ready retort. The Labour leader, she noted, had denounced the government for planning to leave the single market while simultaneously seeking “access” to it. Yet “access”, she went on, was precisely what Corbyn had demanded (seemingly having confused it with full membership). "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue,” she declared.

When Corbyn recalled May’s economic warnings during the referendum (“Does she now disagree with herself?”), the PM was able to reply: “I said if we voted to leave the EU the sky would not fall in and look at what has happened to our economic situation since we voted to leave the EU”.

Corbyn’s subsequent question on whether May would pay for single market access was less wounding than it might have been because she has consistently refused to rule out budget contributions (though yesterday emphasised that the days of “vast” payments were over).

When the Labour leader ended by rightly hailing the contribution immigrants made to public services (“The real pressure on public services comes from a government that slashed billions”), May took full opportunity of the chance to have the last word, launching a full-frontal attack on his leadership and a defence of hers. “There is indeed a difference - when I look at the issue of Brexit or any other issues like the NHS or social care, I consider the issue, I set out my plan and I stick to it. It's called leadership, he should try it some time.”

For May, life will soon get harder. Once Article 50 is triggered, it is the EU 27, not the UK, that will take back control (the withdrawal agreement must be approved by at least 72 per cent of member states). With MPs now guaranteed a vote on the final outcome, parliament will also reassert itself. But for now, May can reflect with satisfaction on her strengthened position.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.