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Miliband makes hay of Cameron's "utter humiliation" over Europe

The Labour leader routed the PM in the Commons as he derided "a masterclass in how to alienate your allies".

The Labour leader routed the PM in the Commons as he derided "a masterclass in how to alienate your allies".
Ed Miliband speaks at the Scottish Labour conference on March 21, 2014 in Perth. Photograph: Getty Images.

After another bad weekend for Labour, marked by Jon Cruddas's attack on the party's "dead hand", Ed Miliband has just lifted his MPs' spirits with one of his strongest Commons performances to date. Responding to David Cameron's statement on last week's EU summit, he brutally assailed the PM's failure to block Jean-Claude Juncker's nomination as commission president.

Cameron, he noted, started by claiming that he had the support of Germany and others to block the former Luxembourg PM, but his "threats, insults and disengagement turned out to be a masterclass in how to alienate your allies and lose the argument for Britain". He insisted that the EU was not unreformable - "it's just that he can't do it". It is unlikely that Labour would have been able to block Juncker (whose candidacy it also opposed),  but this did nothing to dull the force of his performance.

The strategy of threatening EU withdrawal, he declared, "was put to the test and failed".  If the PM couldn't get three countries (Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden) to oppose Juncker, how could he hope to get 27 to support his renegotiation plan? It is a question that Downing Street itself is asking after Angela Merkel (the pivotal figure in Cameron's strategy) failed to deliver on her promise to line up against Juncker. For some Tories, this is cause for celebration as the UK drifts towards the EU exit. But as Miliband reminded MPs, Cameron has been and remains a supporter of British membership - this was not an outcome he ever intended. The PM, he concluded, had been "outwitted, outmanoeuvred, and outvoted" with his renegotiation strategy "in tatters".

Cameron replied by comparing Miliband's lengthy response to Neil Kinnock ("endless wind, endless rhetoric"), a jibe that went down predictably well with the Tory benches, and declared that he wouldn't take lectures from the people who gave away the national veto over the commission presidency. He went on to ask where Miliband was when the European Socialists  voted to support Juncker. But he had no adequate response to the charge that his renegotiation strategy was now fatally flawed.

The one card that Cameron can still play is that he will allow the British people to determine the UK's future in Europe. Labour's refusal to match Cameron's guarantee of an in/out referendum sits uneasily with its new emphasis on "people power" and devolving decision-making. Should the Lib Dems change their stance and promise a vote, it will be even harder for Miliband to defend his position (despite it being the correct one). But for now, he can savour a victory over a PM, who, as he said, "is not in splendid insolation, but in utter humilitation".