Ed Miliband speaks at the Scottish Labour conference earlier this year. Photograph: Getty Images.
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PMQs review: Miliband bangs on about the NHS

The Labour leader is determined to keep his party's strongest issue at the top of the agenda. 

For the third time in recent weeks, Ed Miliband went on the NHS at today's PMQs. Labour is determined to keep its strongest issue at the top of the agenda. Assailed by Miliband over rising A&E waiting times and the growing funding crisis, Cameron delivered his stock response: the coalition has invested more money in the NHS and "you only get a strong health service with a strong economy." Whenever Miliband mentions the subject, the PM seeks to drag him back to the Tories' favoured territory. 

But Labour aides regard Cameron having to talk about the NHS at all as a victory for them. The party's focus groups have found that the coalition's top-down reorganisation of the service means voters blame him for the deteriorating state of the service. When Cameron later responded to Ukip defector Mark Reckless by accusing the party of wanting to "break up" the NHS, the Labour frontbench pointed accusingly at him. The problem for the Tories is that many voters are doing the same. But some in Labour regard Miliband's reliance on the NHS as a mark of his weakness and his failure to conquer new political territory. 

There was no opportunity for Cameron to deliver the anticipated jibe over the Emily Thornberry affair. But Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi more than compensated when he bellowed: "When I see a white van, Mr Speaker, I think of the small business owner who works long hours to put food on the family table. When I see the cross of St George, I think of the words of my constituent, William Shakespeare, 'this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England!' Does my Rt Hon Friend agree with me that we shouldn't sneer at people who work hard, who are patriotic and who love their country?"

The Tory benches have rarely roared more loudly in appreciation. Cameron replied: "I agree with every word my Hon Friend has said. In fact, Mr Speaker, I was wondering why the Labour benches were so quiet. And now I realise, of course, the shadow attorney general who normally makes so much noise presumably isn't here today. Probably out taking pictures of people's homes I expect. But we know that meant about the modern Labour Party, sneering at people who work hard and love their country."

But Labour's shadow health minister Jamie Reed delivered a sharp riposte when he declared: "The first thing I think of when I see a white van is whether or not it’s my father or my brother driving it." Cameron retorted: "If he values people who work hard and want to get on, he ought to cross the floor."

Another notable moment came when Cameron was invited by Tory MP Andrew Turner to condemn Save The Children's award to Tony Blair (he denounced him for "taking us to war unnecessarily in Iraq"). Rather than attacking Blair over a war he also voted for, the PM wittily replied: "The remarkable thing about this award is that Tony Blair got it from someone who used to work for Gordon Brown. So obviously the person who gave the award knows about peacemaking and peacekeeping. But I think it's not for me to get involved."

Damian McBride, however, who worked for Brown alongside Save The Children CEO Justin Forsyth, was not impressed. "Given how loyally Justin Forsyth has supported David Cameron - including making Sam a patron - that was a pretty low blow from the PM," he tweeted

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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We're running out of time to stop a hard Brexit - and the consequences are terrifying

Liam Fox has nothing to say and Labour has thrown the towel in. 

Another day goes past, and still we’re no clearer to finding out what Brexit really means. Today secretary of state for international trade, Liam Fox, was expected to use a speech to the World Trade Organisation to announce that the UK is on course to leave the EU’s single market, as reported earlier this week. But in a humiliating climb-down, he ended up saying very little at all except for vague platitudes about the UK being in favour of free trade.

At a moment when the business community is desperate for details about our future trading arrangements, the International Trade Secretary is saying one thing to the papers and another to our economic partners abroad. Not content with insulting British businesses by calling them fat and lazy, it seems Fox now wants to confuse them as well.

The Tory Government’s failure to spell out what Brexit really means is deeply damaging for our economy, jobs and global reputation. British industry is crying out for direction and for certainty about what lies ahead. Manufacturers and small businesses who rely on trade with Europe want to know whether Britain’s membership of the single market will be preserved. EU citizens living in Britain and all the UK nationals living in Europe want to know whether their right to free movement will be secured. But instead we have endless dithering from Theresa May and bitter divisions between the leading Brexiteers.

Meanwhile the Labour party appears to have thrown in the towel on Europe. This week, Labour chose not to even debate Brexit at their conference, while John McDonnell appeared to confirm he will not fight for Britain’s membership of the single market. And the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn, who hardly lifted a finger to keep us in Europe during the referendum, confirms the party is not set to change course any time soon.

That is not good enough. It’s clear a hard Brexit would hit the most deprived parts of Britain the hardest, decimating manufacturing in sectors like the car industry on which so many skilled jobs rely. The approach of the diehard eurosceptics would mean years of damaging uncertainty and barriers to trade with our biggest trading partners. While the likes of Liam Fox and boris Johnson would be busy travelling the world cobbling together trade deals from scratch, it would be communities back home who pay the price.

We are running out of time to stop a hard Brexit. Britain needs a strong, united opposition to this Tory Brexit Government, one that will fight for our membership of the single market and the jobs that depend on it. If Labour doesn’t fill this gap, the Liberal Democrats will.

Tim Farron is leader of the Liberal Democrats.