Ed Miliband speaks at Senate House on November 13, 2014 in London. Photograph: Getty Images.
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PMQs review: Miliband comes out swinging for the mansion tax

The Labour leader has doubled-down on his strategy of painting Cameron as the friend of the rich and himself as the friend of poor. 

Rather than being unnerved by Ed Miliband's clash with Myleene Klass over the mansion tax on The Agenda, Labour aides regard it as a valuable opportunity to make the case for a popular policy. At today's PMQs, Miliband did just that, contrasting his support for the mansion tax (backed by 72 per cent of the public) with David Cameron's support for the bedroom tax (opposed by 59 per cent). In response, Cameron sought to defend the latter as the removal of the unjustified "spare room subsidy" but he was fighting a battle lost long ago. 

Aided by the proximity of tomorrow's Rochester by-election, and the Tories' now certain defeat to Ukip, Miliband had opened by dryly remarking: "Let’s see if they’re still cheering on Friday". He later declared: "Two of the people behind him have jumped ship. And the other people are waiting for the result to see if they should follow." Cameron predictably sought to turn Miliband's encounter with Klass to his advantage, deriding his "pasting from a pop star" and quipping: "We’re not seeing a Klass act". But his jibes only served to demonstrate how unwilling he was to make a principled defence of the mansion tax. 

In response, Miliband threw populist punch after populist punch (evidence of the fire inserted in the leader's belly by the newly-promoted Jon Trickett and Lucy Powell) . "He only feels the pain of people struggling to find a £2m garage. That is this Prime Minister," he declared (a reference to Klass's moan that it was impossible to afford more in London). He went on to turn to the NHS, Labour's strongest suit, and the promised recipient of the £1.2bn the party hopes the mansion tax would raise.

But it was Miliband's last line that will live longest in the memory. "We all know, Mr Speaker, why this Prime Minister thinks the bedroom tax is great and the mansion tax to fund the NHS is terrible. If you’ve got big money you’ve got a friend in this prime minister. If you haven’t he couldn’t care less," he cried. It was a reminder of how sharp the dividing lines will be at this election and a demonstration of Labour's belief that its best hope lies in framing the Tories as the friends of the rich and themselves as the friends of the poor. It is a strategy antithetical to that of New Labour, which sought partnership, rather than confrontation, with the elite. But defying the dissenters within and without of his party, it is one that Miliband has doubled-down on. Should he achieve victory on these terms, decades-long assumptions about the "centre ground" of British politics will be blown apart.   

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why it's far too early to declare Ukip dead

The party could yet thrive if Brexit disappoints those who voted Leave.

"Nothing except a battle lost can be half as melancholy as a battle won," wrote the Duke of Wellington after Waterloo. Ukip can testify to this. Since achieving its founding aim - a British vote to leave the EU - the party has descended into a rolling crisis.

Theresa May's vow to pursue Brexit, and to achieve control of immigration, robbed Ukip of its political distinctiveness. But the party's greatest enemy has been itself. Its leader Paul Nuttall did not merely lose the Stoke by-election (despite the city recording the highest Leave vote), he self-destructed in the process. Contrary to his assertions, Nuttall did not achieve a PhD, was never a professional footballer and did not lose "close personal friends" at Hillsborough. Ukip's deputy Peter Whittle pleaded last weekend that voters needed more time to get to know Nuttall. No, the problem was that they got to know him all too well. A mere three months after becoming leader, Nuttall has endured a level of mockery from which far stronger men would struggle to recover (and he may soon be relieved of the task).

Since then, Ukip's millionaire sugar daddy Arron Banks has threatened to leave the party unless he is made chairman and Nigel Farage is awarded a new role (seemingly that of de facto leader). For good measure, Farage (a man who has failed seven times to enter parliament) has demanded that Ukip's only MP Douglas Carswell is expelled for the crime of failing to aid his knighthood bid. Not wanting to be outdone, Banks has vowed to stand against Carswell at the next election if the dissenter is not purged. Any suggestion that the party's bloodlust was sated by the flooring of Steve Woolfe and Diane James's 18-day leadership has been entirely dispelled.

For all this, it is too early to pronounce Ukip's death (as many have). Despite May's ascension and its myriad woes, it has maintained an average poll rating of 12 per cent this year. This is far from its 2014 zenith, when it polled as high as 25 per cent, but also far from irrelevancy. Incapable of winning Labour seats itself, Ukip could yet gift them to the Conservatives by attracting anti-Tory, anti-Corbyn voters (in marginals, the margins matter).

Though Theresa May appears invulnerable, Brexit could provide fertile political territory for Ukip. Those who voted Leave in the hope of a radical reduction in immigration will likely be dismayed if only a moderate fall results. Cabinet ministers who boasted during the referendum of their desire to reduce immigration have already been forced to concede that newcomers will be required to fill vacancies for years to come. Ukip will be the natural vehicle for those aggrieved by Brexit "betrayal". Some Leave voters are already dismayed by the slowness of the process (questioning why withdrawal wasn't triggered immediately) and will revolt at the "transitional period" and budget contributions now regarded as inevitable.

The declarations of Ukip's death by both conservatives and liberals have all the hallmarks of wishful thinking. Even if the party collapses in its present form, something comparable to it would emerge. Indeed, the complacency of its opponents could provide the very conditions it needs to thrive.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.