Ed Miliband campaigns before the Rochester and Strood by-election on October 23, 2014 in Chatham. Photograph: Getty Images.
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PMQs review: Miliband paints immigration as the problem - it won't help him

The Labour leader should not acquiesce in the framing of immigration as a negative force. 

Today's PMQs saw Ed Miliband attack David Cameron on the traditionally Tory territory of the European Arrest Warrant and immigration. On the former, aware that up to 100 Conservative MPs are prepared to vote against opting back into the EAW, Miliband demanded to know when a vote would be held on a "vital tool that has helped to bring murderers, rapists and paedophiles to justice".

After attributing Cameron's delay to the Rochester and Strood by-election on 20 November (where the Tories stand to lose to Ukip defector Mark Reckless), he mischievously offered to use Labour's opposition day next week. In response, the PM sprung a surprise declaring that "There's only one problem with his second question. Which is we are going to have a vote, we're going to have it before the Rochester by-election. His questions have just collapsed." The logic, it would appear, is to get the rebellion out of the way before the likely defeat to Ukip, freeing Cameron to focus on unifying his party after the contest. Miliband shot back: "All I can say is I look forward to us walking through the lobby together to vote for the European Arrest Warrant, two parties working together in the national interest. Or maybe, Mr Speaker, given his backbenchers, one and a half parties working together in the national interest."

On immigration, Miliband derided Cameron for his failure to meet his 2010 pledge to reduce net migration to "tens of thousands" a year and challenged him to reveal the level at which it now stands (243,000). The PM refused to do so, instead noting that net migration was down by a quarter from its peak under Labour and demanding that Miliband apologise for the last government's failure to impose transitional controls on eastern european citizens and the "search parties" that were sent out to look for extra migrants. 

An unruffled Miliband kept prodding away, declaring "Why doesn’t he just own up? He broke his promise" and noting that Cameron had said in 2010: "If we don't deliver our side of the bargain, vote us out in five years' time." One could justify Miliband's line of questioning as an attempt to hold the PM accountable for a shattered pledge; the problem for Labour is that anyone listening to him would have got the impression that it was a bad thing Cameron had missed his target. In fact, the reverse is true. Britain's economy and society are unambiguously better off for net migration having remained well above "tens of thousands" a year. It is for this reason, among others, that Labour has avoided making a similar commitment to reduce immigration - it's just too fearful to say so. 

As a progressive, Miliband should be alive to the dangers of "immigration" becoming a permanent pejorative. If newcomers are framed as the problem, it is Ukip, not Labour, that will look like the solution. But on the evidence of today's session, he is far too willing to accept - and even encourage - this trajectory. "Why doesn't he just admit it? On immigration, he has failed," Miliband declared in closing. Perhaps, but he should ask himself if he would really be happy with "success".

Meanwhile, away from the Commons, Nigel Farage contentedly chalks up another victory. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Liam Fox as International Trade Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for International Trade.

Only Nixon, it is said, could have gone to China. Only a politician with the impeccable Commie-bashing credentials of the 37th President had the political capital necessary to strike a deal with the People’s Republic of China.

Theresa May’s great hope is that only Liam Fox, the newly-installed Secretary of State for International Trade, has the Euro-bashing credentials to break the news to the Brexiteers that a deal between a post-Leave United Kingdom and China might be somewhat harder to negotiate than Vote Leave suggested.

The biggest item on the agenda: striking a deal that allows Britain to stay in the single market. Elsewhere, Fox should use his political capital with the Conservative right to wait longer to sign deals than a Remainer would have to, to avoid the United Kingdom being caught in a series of bad deals. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.