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.

Photo: Getty
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Amber Rudd's ignorance isn't just a problem for the laws she writes

Politicians' lack of understanding leads to the wrong laws - and leaves real problems unchecked. 

Amber Rudd’s interview with Andrew Marr yesterday is not going to feature in her highlights reel, that is for certain. Her headline-grabbing howler was her suggesting was that to fight terror “the best people…who understand the necessary hashtags” would stop extremist material “ever being put up, not just taken down”, but the entire performance was riddled with poorly-briefed errors.

During one particularly mystifying exchange, Rudd claimed that she wasn’t asking for permission to “go into the Cloud”, when she is, in fact, asking for permission to go into the Cloud.

That lack of understanding makes itself felt in the misguided attempt to force tech companies to install a backdoor in encrypted communications. I outline some of the problems with that approach here, and Paul Goodman puts it well over at ConservativeHome, the problem with creating a backdoor is that “the security services would indeed be able to travel down it.  So, however, might others – the agencies serving the Chinese and Russian governments, for example, not to mention non-state hackers and criminals”.

But it’s not just in what the government does that makes ministers’ lack of understanding of tech issues a problem. As I’ve written before, there is a problem where hate speech is allowed to flourish freely on new media platforms. After-the-fact enforcement means that jihadist terrorism and white supremacist content can attract a large audience on YouTube and Facebook before it is taken down, while Twitter is notoriously sluggish about removing abuse and hosts a large number of extremists on its site. At time of writing, David Duke, the former head of the Ku Klux Klan, has free use of YouTube to post videos with titles such as “CNN interview on Bannon exposes Jewish bias”, “Will the white race survive?” and “Stop the genocide of European mankind”. It’s somewhat odd, to put it mildly, that WhatsApp is facing more heat for a service that is enjoyed by and protects millions of honest consumers while new media is allowed to be intensely relaxed about hosting hate speech.

Outside of the field of anti-terror, technological illiteracy means that old-fashioned exploitation becomes innovative “disruption” provided it is facilitated by an app. Government and opposition politicians simultaneously decry old businesses’ use of zero-hours contracts and abuse of self-employment status to secure the benefits of a full-time employee without having to bear the costs, while hailing and facilitating the same behaviour provided the company in question was founded after 2007.

As funny as Rudd’s ill-briefed turn on the BBC was, the consequences are anything but funny. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.