Harriet Harman arrives at the Oxford Media Convention on February 26, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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PMQs review: Harman shows Clegg no mercy

Labour's deputy leader's all-out assault on the Lib Dems' record showed that she believes the party can't afford to go soft on the yellows.

With David Cameron away in Israel, it was left to Nick Clegg and Harriet Harman to duel it out at today's PMQs. Harman, who has long urged Labour to maintain an aggressive stance towards the Lib Dems and to avoid any hint of coalition, seized the opportunity to attack Clegg over three of the issues that have done most to alienate his party's left: the NHS reforms (most pertinently Jeremy Hunt's "hospital closure clause"), the bedroom tax (opposed by party president Tim Farron) and the abolition of the 50p tax rate.

In response, Clegg turned his guns on Labour's record in government. It was Labour, he declared, that "spent £250m on sweetheart deals for the private sector", that left too many people on council house waiting lists, and that kept the top rate of tax at 40p (as opposed to the current 45p) for all but one month of its time in office. He branded them "the party of 40p, sweetheart deals in the NHS, the party of Fred Goodwin, and the party against apprenticeships."

The problem with this line of attack is the extent to which Ed Miliband has distanced Labour from its past. He has declared that the last government got it wrong on banking, on housing, on tax and on privatisation. Given this, Clegg's charges largely fell flat. In choosing to attack Labour from the left, he also failed to even attempt to justify the rightwards direction of the coalition.

None of Harman's lines were particularly powerful or original. After Clegg's paean to Britain in his spring conference speech she declared: "doesn’t he realise he might love Britain, but Britain does not love him back?" and ended: "They used to talk about two parties coming together in the national interest; now they’re two parties bound together by mutual terror of the electorate."

But her strategy was a smart one. In order to win a majority in 2015, Labour needs to focus on retaining the support of the 25 per cent plus of 2010 Lib Dem voters who have defected (a swing larger than the cumulative increase in the Conservative vote between 1997 and 2010). The best way to do this is to continually remind those voters of the Conservative policies Clegg's party has enabled in government (the NHS reforms, the bedroom tax, the abolition of the 50p rate) and of the Lib Dems' rightwards drift, which alienate those who viewed them as a left-wing alternative to Labour. Today, she emphatically achieved that objective.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Lord Sainsbury pulls funding from Progress and other political causes

The longstanding Labour donor will no longer fund party political causes. 

Centrist Labour MPs face a funding gap for their ideas after the longstanding Labour donor Lord Sainsbury announced he will stop financing party political causes.

Sainsbury, who served as a New Labour minister and also donated to the Liberal Democrats, is instead concentrating on charitable causes. 

Lord Sainsbury funded the centrist organisation Progress, dubbed the “original Blairite pressure group”, which was founded in mid Nineties and provided the intellectual underpinnings of New Labour.

The former supermarket boss is understood to still fund Policy Network, an international thinktank headed by New Labour veteran Peter Mandelson.

He has also funded the Remain campaign group Britain Stronger in Europe. The latter reinvented itself as Open Britain after the Leave vote, and has campaigned for a softer Brexit. Its supporters include former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg and Labour's Chuka Umunna, and it now relies on grassroots funding.

Sainsbury said he wished to “hand the baton on to a new generation of donors” who supported progressive politics. 

Progress director Richard Angell said: “Progress is extremely grateful to Lord Sainsbury for the funding he has provided for over two decades. We always knew it would not last forever.”

The organisation has raised a third of its funding target from other donors, but is now appealing for financial support from Labour supporters. Its aims include “stopping a hard-left take over” of the Labour party and “renewing the ideas of the centre-left”. 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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