Ed Miliband speaks at the Scottish Labour conference last month. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

PMQs review: Miliband holds his own in a difficult week

But why didn't he lead on the NHS?

With Labour's poll ratings falling as fast as unemployment, this was the most difficult PMQs Ed Miliband has faced for weeks. From the moment he stood up, the Tory benches were baying for blood. But in the event, he emerged largely unscathed.

He began by acknowledging today's positive jobs figures (although that didn't stop Cameron accusing him of ignoring them), a candid approach that will serve him well as the recovery continues, before turning to the Pfizer-AstraZeneca deal. The choice of subject was questionable; after Monday's policy announcement on GP appointments, the NHS seemed the obvious choice. Certainly, the issue resonates with more voters than the machinations of the pharmaceutical industry. But in the chamber, Miliband's grasp of detail and ideological self-confidence meant it proved a strong subject for him. 

Cameron landed a blow early on when he charged Miliband with "quite literally" putting politics before the national interest by initially failing to meet Pfizer's chief executive due to campaigning duties (he went on to meet him yesterday with Chuka Umunna). But Miliband recovered well, declaring that he "wouldn't take lectures" from the man who had negotiated with Pfizer over the heads of the AstraZeneca board and had acted as a "cheerleader" for the bid. 

Unable to provide credible assurances that the company would not be broken up and that jobs would not be cut, Cameron charged Miliband with hypocrisy, recalling New Labour's failure to regulate foreign takeovers, most notably in the case of Kraft and Cadbury. But Miliband's decision to break so unambiguously with Blairism shields him from this attack. His denouncement of the idea that "the market always knows best and doesn't need rules" was a criticism of both Cameron and New Labour. 

Cameron, buoyed by the Tories' first poll lead for more than two years, confidently declared: "the country is getting stronger and he is getting weaker". But Miliband didn't crumble in the way the Tories hoped today. By leading on AstraZeneca, however, he missed an opportunity to put the NHS (which Labour leads on by 12 points) centre stage. If he is turn the polls around, raising the salience of this issue will be vital. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The campaign to keep Britain in Europe must be based on hope, not fear

Together we can show the world a generous, outward-facing Britain we can all be proud of.

Today the Liberal Democrats launched our national campaign to keep Britain in Europe. With the polls showing the outcome of this referendum is on a knife-edge, our party is determined to play a decisive role in this once in a generation fight. This will not be an easy campaign. But it is one we will relish as the UK's most outward-looking and internationalist party. Together in Europe the UK has delivered peace, created the world’s largest free trade area and given the British people the opportunity to live, work and travel freely across the continent. Now is the time to build on these achievements, not throw them all away.

Already we are hearing fear-mongering from both sides in this heated debate. On the one hand, Ukip and the feuding Leave campaigns have shamelessly seized on the events in Cologne at New Year to claim that British women will be at risk if the UK stays in Europe. On the other, David Cameron claims that the refugees he derides as a "bunch of migrants" in Calais will all descend on the other side of the Channel the minute Britain leaves the EU. The British public deserve better than this. Rather than constant mud-slinging and politicising of the world's biggest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War, we need a frank and honest debate about what is really at stake. Most importantly this should be a positive campaign, one that is fought on hope and not on fear. As we have a seen in Scotland, a referendum won through scare tactics alone risks winning the battle but losing the war.

The voice of business and civil society, from scientists and the police to environmental charities, have a crucial role to play in explaining how being in the EU benefits the British economy and enhances people's everyday lives. All those who believe in Britain's EU membership must not be afraid to speak out and make the positive case why being in Europe makes us more prosperous, stable and secure. Because at its heart this debate is not just about facts and figures, it is about what kind of country we want to be.

The Leave campaigns cannot agree what they believe in. Some want the UK to be an offshore, deregulated tax haven, others advocate a protectionist, mean-hearted country that shuts it doors to the world. As with so many populist movements, from Putin to Trump, they are defined not by what they are for but what they are against. Their failure to come up with a credible vision for our country's future is not patriotic, it is irresponsible.

This leaves the field open to put forward a united vision of Britain's place in Europe and the world. Liberal Democrats are clear what we believe in: an open, inclusive and tolerant nation that stands tall in the world and doesn't hide from it. We are not uncritical of the EU's institutions. Indeed as Liberals, we fiercely believe that power must be devolved to the lowest possible level, empowering communities and individuals wherever possible to make decisions for themselves. But we recognise that staying in Europe is the best way to find the solutions to the problems that don't stop at borders, rather than leaving them to our children and grandchildren. We believe Britain must put itself at the heart of our continent's future and shape a more effective and more accountable Europe, focused on responding to major global challenges we face.

Together in Europe we can build a strong and prosperous future, from pioneering research into life-saving new medicines to tackling climate change and fighting international crime. Together we can provide hope for the desperate and spread the peace we now take for granted to the rest of the world. And together we can show the world a generous, outward-facing Britain we can all be proud of. So if you agree then join the Liberal Democrat campaign today, to remain in together, and to stand up for the type of Britain you think we should be.