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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A global marketplace: the internet represents exporting’s biggest opportunity

The advent of the internet age has made the whole world a single marketplace. Selling goods online through digital means offers British businesses huge opportunities for international growth. The UK was one of the earliest adopters of online retail platforms, and UK online sales revenues are growing at around 20 per cent each year, not just driving wider economic growth, but promoting the British brand to an enthusiastic audience.

Global e-commerce turnover grew at a similar rate in 2014-15 to over $2.2trln. The Asia-Pacific region, for example, is embracing e-marketplaces with 28 per cent growth in 2015 to over $1trln of sales. This demonstrates the massive opportunities for UK exporters to sell their goods more easily to the world’s largest consumer markets. My department, the Department for International Trade, is committed to being a leader in promoting these opportunities. We are supporting UK businesses in identifying these markets, and are providing access to services and support to exploit this dramatic growth in digital commerce.

With the UK leading innovation, it is one of the responsibilities of government to demonstrate just what can be done. My department is investing more in digital services to reach and support many more businesses, and last November we launched our new digital trade hub: www.great.gov.uk. Working with partners such as Lloyds Banking Group, the new site will make it easier for UK businesses to access overseas business opportunities and to take those first steps to exporting.

The ‘Selling Online Overseas Tool’ within the hub was launched in collaboration with 37 e-marketplaces including Amazon and Rakuten, who collectively represent over 2bn online consumers across the globe. The first government service of its kind, the tool allows UK exporters to apply to some of the world’s leading overseas e-marketplaces in order to sell their products to customers they otherwise would not have reached. Companies can also access thousands of pounds’ worth of discounts, including waived commission and special marketing packages, created exclusively for Department for International Trade clients and the e-exporting programme team plans to deliver additional online promotions with some of the world’s leading e-marketplaces across priority markets.

We are also working with over 50 private sector partners to promote our Exporting is GREAT campaign, and to support the development and launch of our digital trade platform. The government’s Exporting is GREAT campaign is targeting potential partners across the world as our export trade hub launches in key international markets to open direct export opportunities for UK businesses. Overseas buyers will now be able to access our new ‘Find a Supplier’ service on the website which will match them with exporters across the UK who have created profiles and will be able to meet their needs.

With Lloyds in particular we are pleased that our partnership last year helped over 6,000 UK businesses to start trading overseas, and are proud of our association with the International Trade Portal. Digital marketplaces have revolutionised retail in the UK, and are now connecting consumers across the world. UK businesses need to seize this opportunity to offer their products to potentially billions of buyers and we, along with partners like Lloyds, will do all we can to help them do just that.

Taken from the New Statesman roundtable supplement Going Digital, Going Global: How digital skills can help any business trade internationally

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