David Cameron leaves 10 Downing Street before PMQs earlier today. Photograph: Getty Images.
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PMQs review: Cameron's surprise pledge not to raise VAT floors Miliband

The Labour leader was caught unawares by the PM's promise not to increase the tax. 

Ed Miliband arrived at the final PMQs before the election with a line he seemingly thought could not fail: will David Cameron rule out another VAT rise? Ever since Labour began this attack the Tories have merely said that they have "no plans" to increase the tax (the same formulation they used before raising it in 2010). At his Treasury select committee appearance yesterday, George Osborne failed five times to rule out a hike. 

Miliband's question was well-scripted: "On Monday, the PM announced his retirement plans and he said it was because he believed in giving straight answers to straight questions. After five years of PMQs, that was music to my ears... Will he now rule out a rise in VAT?" But against the Labour leader's expectations, Cameron replied: "In 43 days time I plan to arrange his retirement, but he’s right, straight answers deserve straight questions and the answer is Yes." From that point, a visibly surprised Miliband never recovered. It transpires that Osborne's evasiveness yesterday was a ploy to throw Labour off the scent. The question that the party's MPs will be asking is why Miliband entirely failed to anticipate this move. 

Scenting blood, Cameron went on the offensive, demanding three times that Miliband rule out a rise in National Insurance; he failed to do so. Labour will now have to quickly consider whether to close down this attack with Tory-style ruthlessness. Today's exchanges gave Cameron one of his clearest victories for months. Watching from the public gallery, Samantha Cameron and two of her children, Nancy and Elwen, relished the victory. The only consolation for Labour is that the Tories' pledge not to raise VAT has raised the bar for other issues (Cameron notably failed to refuse out another cut in the top rate of income tax). 

The PM had no shortage of material for the reminder of the session. When Labour's Simon Danczuk asked a question, Cameron naturally responded by quoting at length from his New Statesman interview: "This is what he says: 'Any Labour politician that says to you the knock on a door and Ed Miliband Is popular, they’re telling lies". He similarly exploited Alex Salmond's pledge, in another NS interview, to bring down a Conservative minority government, warning of "the ransom" Labour would have to pay to secure the SNP's support and referring to Miliband as Salmond's "poodle". He ended with a Richard III joke previously deployed by Osborne: "It is worth remembering this is the last time somebody did in one of their relatives to get the top job and the country ended in chaos."

Whether Cameron will return as PM remains very much an open question. But after the Tories' worst week of this year, he dramatically raised his MPs' spirits today, gifting his party that most precious commodity in politics: momentum. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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For a mayor who will help make Londoners healthier, vote for Tessa Jowell

The surgeon, former Labour health minister and chairman of the London Health Commission, Ara Darzi, backs Tessa Jowell to be Labour's candidate for London mayor.

London’s mayor matters. As the world’s preeminent city, London possesses an enormous wealth of assets: energetic and enterprising people, successful businesses, a strong public sector, good infrastructure and more parks and green spaces than any other capital city.

Yet these aren’t put to work to promote the health of Londoners. Indeed, quite the opposite: right now, London faces a public health emergency.

More than a million Londoners still smoke tobacco, with 67 children lighting up for the first time every day. London’s air quality is silently killing us. We have the dirtiest air in Europe, causing more than 4,000 premature deaths every year.

Nearly four million Londoners are obese or overweight – and just 13% of us walk or cycle to school or work, despite half of us living close enough to do so. All Londoners should be ashamed that we have the highest rate of childhood obesity of any major global city.

It’s often been said that we don’t value our health until we lose it. As a cancer surgeon, I am certain that is true. And I know that London can do better. 

For that reason, twice in the past decade, I’ve led movements of Londoners working together to improve health and to improve the NHS. Healthcare for London gave our prescription for a better NHS in the capital. And Better Health for London showed how Londoners could be helped to better health, as well as better healthcare.

In my time championing health in London, I’ve never met a politician more committed to doing the right thing for Londoners’ health than Tessa Jowell. That’s why I’m backing her as Labour’s choice for mayor. We need a mayor who will deliver real change, and Tessa will be that mayor.  

When she invited me to discuss Better Health for London, she had the courage to commit to doing what is right, no matter how hard the politics. Above all, she wanted to know how many lives would be saved or improved, and what she could do to help.

In Tessa, I see extraordinary passion, boundless energy and unwavering determination to help others.

For all Londoners, the healthiest choice isn’t always easy and isn’t always obvious. Every day, we make hundreds of choices that affect our health – how we get to and from school or work, what we choose to eat, how we spend our free time.

As mayor, Tessa Jowell will help Londoners by making each of those individual decisions that bit easier. And in that difference is everything: making small changes individually will make a huge difference collectively.  

Tessa is committed to helping London’s children in their early years – just as she did in government by delivering Sure Start. Tessa will tackle London’s childhood obesity epidemic by getting children moving just as she did with the Olympics. Tessa will make London a walking city – helping all of us to healthier lifestyles.

And yes, she’s got the guts to make our parks and public places smoke free, helping adults to choose to stop smoking and preventing children from starting.   

The real test of leadership is not to dream up great ideas or make grand speeches. It is to build coalitions to make change happen. It is to deliver real improvements to daily life. Only Tessa has the track record of delivery – from the Olympics to Sure Start.   

Like many in our capital, I am a Londoner by choice. I am here because I believe that London is the greatest city in the world – and is bursting with potential to be even greater.

The Labour party now has a crucial choice to make. London needs Labour to choose Tessa, to give Londoners the chance to choose better health.