Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with ministers from the Federal Financial Monitoring Service yesterday in Moscow. Photograph: Getty Images.
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PMQs review: Miliband urges Cameron not to put profit before people over Russia

The Labour leader pressed Cameron on trade sanctions after a No. 10 document appeared to rule them out.

Today's PMQs will be regarded by most as one to forget. As expected, Ed Miliband devoted all six of his questions to the Ukraine crisis (Labour's Jon Ashworth has written to Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood regarding the Patrick Rock affair) and wisely struck a statesmanlike tone. Indeed, his last question wasn't actually a question but a commitment to offer the government Labour's "full support" at this "delicate and dangerous moment for international security".

Yet the consensual tone masked the potential for significant differences to emerge between Miliband and Cameron over how to punish Russia for its breach of sovereignty. Following the leak of extracts from a No. 10 document suggesting that "the UK should not support for now trade sanctions or close London's financial centre to Russians" (presumably because of the consequences for UK business), Miliband asked the PM what the UK would be tabling at the EU summit tomorrow and whether he was keeping open the option of sanctions. Cameron simply replied that there would be "costs and consequences" for Russia, but failed to offer any more detail.

Miliband then smartly reminded him of his tough talk during the invasion of Georgia in 2008, when he declared: "Russian armies can't march into other countries while Russian shoppers carry on marching into Selfridges". Would he look at asset freezes and visa restrictions? The PM gave the stock answer that "nothing should be off the table" (a response which, nonetheless, contradicts the No. 10 document) and said he would be speaking to Barack Obama this afternoon. Whatever emerges from the talks, Miliband has made his stance clear: profit should not come before people.

It is also worth noting Miliband's emphasis on the importance of the EU in resolving the crisis. As with his call for action over climate change last week, this is an issue over which he can drive a wedge between Cameron and his backbenchers.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Ignored by the media, the Liberal Democrats are experiencing a revival

The crushed Liberals are doing particularly well in areas that voted Conservative in 2015 - and Remain in 2016. 

The Liberal Democrats had another good night last night, making big gains in by-elections. They won Adeyfield West, a seat they have never held in Dacorum, with a massive swing. They were up by close to the 20 points in the Derby seat of Allestree, beating Labour into second place. And they won a seat in the Cotswolds, which borders the vacant seat of Witney.

It’s worth noting that they also went backwards in a safe Labour ward in Blackpool and a safe Conservative seat in Northamptonshire.  But the overall pattern is clear, and it’s not merely confined to last night: the Liberal Democrats are enjoying a mini-revival, particularly in the south-east.

Of course, it doesn’t appear to be making itself felt in the Liberal Democrats’ poll share. “After Corbyn's election,” my colleague George tweeted recently, “Some predicted Lib Dems would rise like Lazarus. But poll ratings still stuck at 8 per cent.” Prior to the local elections, I was pessimistic that the so-called Liberal Democrat fightback could make itself felt at a national contest, when the party would have to fight on multiple fronts.

But the local elections – the first time since 1968 when every part of the mainland United Kingdom has had a vote on outside of a general election – proved that completely wrong. They  picked up 30 seats across England, though they had something of a nightmare in Stockport, and were reduced to just one seat in the Welsh Assembly. Their woes continued in Scotland, however, where they slipped to fifth place. They were even back to the third place had those votes been replicated on a national scale.

Polling has always been somewhat unkind to the Liberal Democrats outside of election campaigns, as the party has a low profile, particularly now it has just eight MPs. What appears to be happening at local by-elections and my expectation may be repeated at a general election is that when voters are presented with the option of a Liberal Democrat at the ballot box they find the idea surprisingly appealing.

Added to that, the Liberal Democrats’ happiest hunting grounds are clearly affluent, Conservative-leaning areas that voted for Remain in the referendum. All of which makes their hopes of a good second place in Witney – and a good night in the 2017 county councils – look rather less farfetched than you might expect. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.