Ed Miliband answers questions from members of the public during his People's Question Time at Nelson and Colne College on February 19, 2015. Photograph: Getty Images.
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PMQs review: Miliband floors Cameron on MPs' second jobs

The Prime Minister was left looking as inert as Gordon Brown following the expenses scandal. 

It is some time since David Cameron has endured a defeat as bad as that he suffered at today's PMQs. Ed Miliband unsurprisingly led on the lobbying scandal and pressed the case for reform of MPs' second jobs (the subject of a Labour motion tonight). Cameron replied that he did not rule out "further changes" but the tone of lofty scepticism was unmistakable. At this, an animated Miliband pounced. Had the PM not once declared that "double-jobbing MPs won’t get a look-in when I’m in charge"? Cameron replied with what he thought was a trump card - Labour's motion would allow MPs to serve as paid trade union officials - but it proved to be a dud. Miliband simply ruled out this exemption and invited the PM to do business. (There are, in any case, no Labour MPs who occupy this role.) He offered to consult on the level of an outside earnings cap, while demanding that the government agree to a ban on directorships and consultancies. 

A wrong-footed Cameron could only respond with pre-heated attacks on the trade unions, intermingled with cheap barbs at Tristram Hunt and David Miliband over their outside earnings. (The most reliable indicator of a defeat for the PM is the number of times he mentions Len McCluskey and co.) Swatting away the case for reform, he appeared as inert as Gordon Brown did following the expenses scandal. "This is a very big test. You can vote for two jobs, or you can vote for one. I’ll be voting for one job; what will he be voting for?" cried Miliband with the confidence of a man who knows he has the public on his side (voters support a ban on MPs holding second jobs by 56 per cent to 25). In return, Cameron could only offer feeble non sequiturs: "I make an offer to him, no more support from trade unions for the Labour Party – then we’ve got a deal!" He looked like what he was: a man desperate to change the subject. 

Following his exchanges with Miliband, Cameron was questioned by the DUP's Westminster leader Nigel Dodds on the seemingly doomed TV debates. Today's session was an apt reminder of why he does not want to face the leader of the opposition. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

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

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