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

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Jeremy Corbyn challenged by Labour MPs to sack Ken Livingstone from defence review

Former mayor of London criticised at PLP meeting over comments on 7 July bombings. 

After Jeremy Corbyn's decision to give Labour MPs a free vote over air strikes in Syria, tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) meeting was less fractious than it could have been. But one grandee was still moved to declare that the "ferocity" of the attacks on the leader made it the most "uplifting" he had attended.

Margaret Beckett, the former foreign secretary, told the meeting: "We cannot unite the party if the leader's office is determined to divide us." Several MPs said afterwards that many of those who shared Corbyn's opposition to air strikes believed he had mishandled the process by appealing to MPs over the heads of the shadow cabinet and then to members. David Winnick declared that those who favoured military action faced a "shakedown" and deselection by Momentum activists. "It is completely unacceptable. They are a party within a party," he said of the Corbyn-aligned group. The "huge applause" for Hilary Benn, who favours intervention, far outweighed that for the leader, I'm told. 

There was also loud agreement when Jack Dromey condemned Ken Livingstone for blaming Tony Blair's invasion of Iraq for the 7 July 2005 bombings. Along with Angela Smith MP, Dromey demanded that Livingstone be sacked as the co-chair of Labour's defence review. Significantly, Benn said aftewards that he agreed with every word Dromey had said. Corbyn's office has previously said that it is up to the NEC, not the leader, whether the former London mayor holds the position. In reference to 7 July, an aide repeated Corbyn's statement that he preferred to "remember the brilliant words Ken used after 7/7". 

As on previous occasions, MPs complained that the leader failed to answer the questions that were put to him. A shadow minister told me that he "dodged" one on whether he believed the UK should end air strikes against Isis in Iraq. In reference to Syria, a Corbyn aide said afterwards that "There was significant support for the leader. There was a wide debate, with people speaking on both sides of the arguments." After David Cameron's decision to call a vote on air strikes for Wednesday, leaving only a day for debate, the number of Labour MPs backing intervention is likely to fall. One shadow minister told me that as few as 40-50 may back the government, though most expect the total to be closer to the original figure of 99. 

At the end of another remarkable day in Labour's history, a Corbyn aide concluded: "It was always going to be a bumpy ride when you have a leader who was elected by a large number outside parliament but whose support in the PLP is quite limited. There are a small number who find it hard to come to terms with that result."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.