David Cameron and Ed Miliband before the Queen's Speech at the State Opening of Parliament on June 4, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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PMQs review: Cameron's tax attack throws Miliband off course

The Labour leader struggled after the PM twisted a Harriet Harman quote on middle earners and tax.

With Michael Gove demoted after he became too toxic for the Tories, and wage growth at its lowest level since ONS records began in 2001, Ed Miliband arrived well-armed at the final PMQs before the summer recess. He had the best of the opening exchanges on these subjects, asking Cameron why he had moved the Education Secretary after previously promising to keep him in his post for years.

But midway through the session, Cameron produced a far more potent weapon in the form of a Harriet Harman quote on tax. During her new LBC phone-in show on Monday night, she said: 

Yes, I think people on middle incomes should contribute more through their taxes.

As Labour sources have been quick to point out, Harman was referring to the principle of middle earners paying more than lower earners in a progressive tax system, but the comment was easily spun by Cameron as a call for a tax rise on the "squeezed middle". 

He declared: "One of the things that wasn't noticed and happened yesterday, the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, on the radio said this, and I want to quote it very precisely: 'I think people on middle incomes should contribute more through their taxes.' That is what she said ... There we are, that is their policy. The squeezed middle will be squeezed more. Now he needs to tell us which people are going to pay which taxes."

Miliband, who was clearly unaware of the remarks, was thrown off his stride, while Harman responded by shouting "It's true!", only adding to the Tories' glee. From that point onwards, the PM was in control, with Miliband left only to accuse him of "desperate stuff". The session ended with a boisterous Caemeron declaring: "Everyone can see the contrast, in this party, the leader reshuffles the Cabinet. In his party, the shadow cabinet desperately want to reshuffle the leader."

After the session, Miliband's spokesman (who was also unaware of the quote) accused Cameron of being "deeply dishonest", adding that "he knows this is not our party's position". He reminded journalists that Labour has pledged to cut taxes for 24 million middle and low income earners by reintroducing a 10p rate of tax, and made it clear that it is not proposing any tax rises for this group. 

But while true, this fall shorts of the categoric pledge - "we will not raise taxes on middle earners" - that Miliband will now be pressed to make. Unless he does, this will remain a potent attack line for the Tories. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Four times Owen Smith has made sexist comments

The Labour MP for Pontypridd and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership rival has been accused of misogynist remarks. Again.

2016

Wanting to “smash” Theresa May “back on her heels”

During a speech at a campaign event, Owen Smith blithely deployed some aggressive imagery about attacking the new Prime Minister. In doing so, he included the tired sexist trope beloved of the right wing press about Theresa May’s shoes – her “kitten heels” have long been a fascination of certain tabloids:

“I’ll be honest with you, it pained me that we didn’t have the strength and the power and the vitality to smash her back on her heels and argue that these our values, these are our people, this is our language that they are seeking to steal.”

When called out on his comments by Sky’s Sophy Ridge, Smith doubled down:

“They love a bit of rhetoric, don’t they? We need a bit more robust rhetoric in our politics, I’m very much in favour of that. You’ll be getting that from me, and I absolutely stand by those comments. It’s rhetoric, of course. I don’t literally want to smash Theresa May back, just to be clear. I’m not advocating violence in any way, shape or form.”

Your mole dug around to see whether this is a common phrase, but all it could find was “set back on one’s heels”, which simply means to be shocked by something. Nothing to do with “smashing”, and anyway, Smith, or somebody on his team, should be aware that invoking May’s “heels” is lazy sexism at best, and calling on your party to “smash” a woman (particularly when you’ve been in trouble for comments about violence against women before – see below) is more than casual misogyny.

Arguing that misogyny in Labour didn’t exist before Jeremy Corbyn

Smith recently told BBC News that the party’s nastier side only appeared nine months ago:

“I think Jeremy should take a little more responsibility for what’s going on in the Labour party. After all, we didn’t have this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism in the Labour party before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.”

Luckily for Smith, he had never experienced misogyny in his party until the moment it became politically useful to him… Or perhaps, not being the prime target, he simply wasn’t paying enough attention before then?

2015

Telling Leanne Wood she was only invited on TV because of her “gender”

Before a general election TV debate for ITV Wales last year, Smith was caught on camera telling the Plaid Cymru leader that she only appeared on Question Time because she is a woman:

Wood: “Have you ever done Question Time, Owen?”

Smith: “Nope, they keep putting you on instead.”

Wood: “I think with party balance there’d be other people they’d be putting on instead of you, wouldn’t they, rather than me?”

Smith: “I think it helps. I think your gender helps as well.”

Wood: “Yeah.”

2010

Comparing the Lib Dems’ experience of coalition to domestic violence

In a tasteless analogy, Smith wrote this for WalesHome in the first year of the Tory/Lib Dem coalition:

“The Lib Dem dowry of a maybe-referendum on AV [the alternative vote system] will seem neither adequate reward nor sufficient defence when the Tories confess their taste for domestic violence on our schools, hospitals and welfare provision.

“Surely, the Liberals will file for divorce as soon as the bruises start to show through the make-up?”

But never fear! He did eventually issue a non-apology for his offensive comments, with the classic use of “if”:

“I apologise if anyone has been offended by the metaphorical reference in this article, which I will now be editing. The reference was in a phrase describing today's Tory and Liberal cuts to domestic spending on schools and welfare as metaphorical ‘domestic violence’.”

***

A one-off sexist gaffe is bad enough in a wannabe future Labour leader. But your mole sniffs a worrying pattern in this list that suggests Smith doesn’t have a huge amount of respect for women, when it comes to political rhetoric at least. And it won’t do him any electoral favours either – it makes his condemnation of Corbynite nastiness ring rather hollow.

I'm a mole, innit.