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's Labour conference speech shows how he's grown

The leader's confident address will have impressed even his fiercest foes. 

It is not just Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate that has been improved by his re-election. The Labour leader’s conference speech was, by some distance, the best he has delivered. He spoke with far greater confidence, clarity and energy than previously. From its self-deprecating opening onwards ("Virgin Trains assure me there are 800 empty seats") we saw a leader improved in almost every respect. 

Even Corbyn’s firecest foes will have found less to take issue with than they may have anticipated. He avoided picking a fight on Trident (unlike last year), delivered his most forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism (“an evil”) and, with the exception of the Iraq war, avoided attacks on New Labour’s record. The video which preceded his arrival, and highlighted achievements from the Blair-Brown years, was another olive branch. But deselection, which Corbyn again refused to denounce, will remain a running sore (MPs alleged that Hillsborough campaigner Sheila Coleman, who introduced Corbyn, is seeking to deselect Louise Ellman and backed the rival TUSC last May).

Corbyn is frequently charged with lacking policies. But his lengthy address contained several new ones: the removal of the cap on council borrowing (allowing an extra 60,000 houses to be built), a ban on arms sales to abusive regimes and an arts pupil premium in every primary school.

On policy, Corbyn frequently resembles Ed Miliband in his more radical moments, unrestrained by Ed Balls and other shadow cabinet members. He promised £500bn of infrastructure investment (spread over a decade with £150bn from the private sector), “a real living wage”, the renationalisation of the railways, rent controls and a ban on zero-hours contracts.

Labour’s greatest divisions are not over policy but rules, strategy and culture. Corbyn’s opponents will charge him with doing far too little to appeal to the unconverted - Conservative voters most of all. But he spoke with greater conviction than before of preparing for a general election (acknowledging that Labour faced an arithmetical “mountain”) and successfully delivered the attack lines he has often shunned.

“Even Theresa May gets it, that people want change,” he said. “That’s why she stood on the steps of Downing Street and talked about the inequalities and burning injustices in today’s Britain. She promised a country: ‘that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us’. But even if she manages to talk the talk, she can’t walk the walk. This isn’t a new government, it’s David Cameron’s government repackaged with progressive slogans but with a new harsh right-wing edge, taking the country backwards and dithering before the historic challenges of Brexit.”

After a second landslide victory, Corbyn is, for now, unassailable. Many MPs, having voted no confidence in him, will never serve on the frontbench. But an increasing number, recognising Corbyn’s immovability, speak once again of seeking to “make it work”. For all the ructions of this summer, Corbyn’s speech will have helped to persuade them that they can.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.