David Cameron speaks during a joint news conference with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in Downing Street in central London on June 19, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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PMQs review: Cameron scrapes a dirty win

The PM's blast at Miliband over tomorrow's strike secured him victory. 

As so often, David Cameron left it until the end of his exchange with Ed Miliband to play his trump card. In reference to Labour's contorted position on tomorrow's public sector strike, he observed that the party had briefed that it would not support the walk-out, but also that it would not condemn it. It was pure opportunism from the PM (Miliband had asked him about A&E waiting times) but in an otherwise evenly matched contest it was enough to give him victory. The Tories intend to make Miliband's alleged indecisiveness and weakness one of the central themes of their general election campaign and Cameron offered a succinct preview today: "Is he remotely up to the job? No."

The session began with Miliband asking the PM three statesmanlike questions on the child abuse inquiries, having chosen not to query the appointment of Elizabeth Butler-Sloss (whose brother was attorney general at the time many of the allegations were first made) to head the independent panel. After Cameron promised to consider the NSPCC's call for a new mandatory reporting law he moved on to the NHS, Labour's main campaigning issue for the summer. 

Miliband brandished the House of Commons Library's correction of Cameron's claims on A&E waiting times, but trying to win an argument on statistics at PMQs is like trying to win an argument on the internet: it never works. The most notable moment came when Cameron declared that Miliband had made "a massive mistake keeping a failing health secretary as the shadow health spokesman", prompting Miliband to say of Andy Burnham (one of those regarded by Labour MPs as positioning himself for a future leadership contest): "I'd far rather have the shadow health secretary than their health secretary any day of the week." 

As well as his blast at Labour over tomorrow's strike (he later confirmed to Tory MP Dominic Raab that a minimum threshold law would be included in the Conservative manifesto), Cameron used his final answer to plunge the depths of political combat as he said Miliband still "has to defend the man who presided over the Mid-Staffs disgrace." Though it is now hard to recall, when the Francis Report into the hospital scandal was published, Cameron endorsed its conclusion that Burnham bore no blame. That he has now been forced to deploy this ad hominem attack is evidence of how weak the Tories' position on the NHS has become. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Europe's elections show why liberals should avoid fatalism

France, Germany and the Netherlands suggest there is nothing inevitable about the right's advance.

Humans are unavoidably pattern-seeking creatures. We give meaning to disparate events where little or none may exist. So it is with Brexit and Donald Trump. The proximity of these results led to declarations of liberalism's demise. After decades of progress, the tide was said to have unavoidably turned.

Every election is now treated as another round in the great duel between libralism and populism. In the Netherlands, the perennial nativist Geert Wilders was gifted outsize attention in the belief that he could surf the Brexit-Trump wave to victory. Yet far from triumphing, the Freedom Party finished a distant second, increasing its seats total to 20 (four fewer than in 2010). Wilders' defeat was always more likely than not (and he would have been unable to form a government) but global events gifted him an aura of invincibility.

In France, for several years, Marine Le Pen has been likely to make the final round of the next presidential election. But it was only after Brexit and Trump's election that she was widely seen as a potential victor. As in 2002, the front républicain is likely to defeat the Front National. The winner, however, will not be a conservative but a liberal. According to the post-Trump narrative, Emmanuel Macron's rise should have been impossible. But his surge (albeit one that has left him tied with Le Pen in the first round) suggests liberalism is in better health than suggested.

In Germany, where the far-right Alternative für Deutschland was said to be remorselessly advancing, politics is returning to traditional two-party combat. The election of Martin Schulz has transformed the SPD's fortunes to the point where it could form the next government. As some Labour MPs resign themselves to perpeutal opposition, they could be forgiven for noting what a difference a new leader can make.

2016 will be forever remembered as the year of Brexit and Trump. Yet both events could conceivably have happened in liberalism's supposed heyday. The UK has long been the EU's most reluctant member and, having not joined the euro or the Schengen Zone, already had one foot outside the door. In the US, the conditions for the election of a Trump-like figure have been in place for decades. For all this, Leave only narrowly won and Hillary Clinton won three million more votes than her opponent. Liberalism is neither as weak as it is now thought, nor as strong as it was once thought.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.