Ed Miliband speaks at the Scottish Labour conference on March 21, 2014 in Perth. Photograph: Getty Images.
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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".

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".

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.