Ed Miliband speaks to an audience at Haverstock School in Camden. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Labour pledges to outspend the Tories on education: who'll benefit politically?

Miliband is confident that his promise to invest more better reflects the public's priorities. But the Tories will present him as profligate. 

Ed Miliband's successful duel with Tory donor Lord Fink has overshadowed one of Labour's biggest spending commitments to date. In his speech at Haverstock School (his old comprehensive) earlier today, Miliband pledged to "protect the overall education budget" in "real-terms". This contrasts with the Conservatives, who would cut schools funding by 10 per cent in the next parliament and fail to ring-fence other budgets. Labour is now promising to outspend the Tories in the two politically defining areas of health (pledging £2.5bn more) and education. 

The danger for the opposition is that this reinforces its profligate reputation. The Tories are seeking to sow doubt over Labour's fiscal credibility by warning that high-quality public services ultimately depend on a "strong economy" (the area in which they enjoy their largest poll lead). The problem with the party, they suggest, is that it always runs out of other people's money. 

But Labour is confident that its commitment to spend more on public services better reflects the public's priorities. It recalls the experience of past elections (2001, 2005) in which fear of Conservative cuts handed it victory. It was awareness of this failure that led David Cameron and George Osborne to pledge in 2007 to match Labour's spending plans in the next parliament (thus denying their opponents' "baseline" advantage). But the financial crisis and the resultant surge in the deficit led the Tories to abandon their commitment, instead promising an "age of austerity". Their subsequent failure to win a majority was partly blamed by Osborne on voters' fear of the cuts to come. Labour was able to warn (accurately, as it proved) that child benefit, tax credits, Sure Start and the Education Maintenance Allowance were all under threat. 

By vowing to continue cutting even after the deficit has been eliminated, the Chancellor has provided the opposition with a new opportunity to depict him as a dangerous ideologue. Ed Balls's recent claim that his party now owns the "centre ground" was supported by a recent ComRes/Independent survey showing that 66 per cent do not believe that cuts should continue until the deficit has been eradicated with just 30 per cent in favour. 

There will, of course, be cuts under Labour, as Balls has long warned. Indeed, the pledge to ring-fence education spending means the axe will fall harder elsewhere. But by promising to do so, Labour has further sharpened the fiscal choice between the two parties at this election. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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