David Cameron and Harriet Harman at the state opening of parliament last month. Photograph: Getty Images.
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PMQs review: Harman recovers some ground as she disciplines "gloating" Cameron

Labour's acting leader delivered an improved performance. But how wise is her new tactic?

After becoming the first prime minister since Lord Palmerston in 1857 to increase his party's share of votes and seats (as he recently boasted to European leaders), David Cameron is in even more confident form than usual. Having been roundly defeated at last week's PMQs, Harriet Harman tried a new tack today. After Cameron contemptuously dismissed her call for 16-17-year-olds to be allowed to vote in the EU referendum, Labour's acting leader chided him for "ranting and sneering and gloating" before adding, in her best line, "Frankly, he should show a bit more class". A suitably chastened Cameron responded with far more emollience to her next question (on the neutrality of the government during the referendum). The ease with which Labour's headmistress disciplined the unruly pupil suggested the Tories should invite her to lead one of their free schools. 

But after a civil interlude, Cameron riled Harman again when he quoted her statement that some Labour voters were "relieved" the party didn't win. "He just can’t help himself but gloat, can he?" she said. "Go right ahead and gloat, but why shouldn’t he just answer the question about childcare ... Perhaps we can have an answer instead of a gloating session." This time, however, Cameron opted to attack rather than to appease. "I'm sorry if the Right Honourable Lady thinks I'm gloating," he replied. "It must be the first time someone's been accused of gloating while quoting the leader of the opposition, I mean for instance, she said the other day, 'people tend to like a leader who they feel is economically competent'. I think she's been talking a lot of sense and I'm going to be quoting her as often as I can!" 

Harman's tactic ensured a better performance than last week. And Cameron would be wise not to gloat - he does after all have a majority of just 12. But whether Labour should seek to interrupt its opponent when he is making a mistake is open to question. Others will argue that Harman should focus on defeating Cameron on substance, rather than tone. 

On policy, it was notable that Cameron refused to rule out holding the EU referendum on the same day as next year's Scottish and local elections (which would likely favour the In camp). Harman's rejection of this option was aimed at the Tories' divisions but also reflected Labour's belief that the ballot must be seen as fair and not "rigged". For the same reason, Harman argued that the government must not use public funds or the state machine to bolster the In campaign. Expect Labour to seek to force Cameron to capitulate to his backbenchers on this front. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win in Manchester Gorton?

Will Labour lose in Manchester Gorton?

The death of Gerald Kaufman will trigger a by-election in his Manchester Gorton seat, which has been Labour-held since 1935.

Coming so soon after the disappointing results in Copeland – where the seat was lost to the Tories – and Stoke – where the party lost vote share – some overly excitable commentators are talking up the possibility of an upset in the Manchester seat.

But Gorton is very different to Stoke-on-Trent and to Copeland. The Labour lead is 56 points, compared to 16.5 points in Stoke-on-Trent and 6.5 points in Copeland. (As I’ve written before and will doubtless write again, it’s much more instructive to talk about vote share rather than vote numbers in British elections. Most of the country tends to vote in the same way even if they vote at different volumes.)

That 47 per cent of the seat's residents come from a non-white background and that the Labour party holds every council seat in the constituency only adds to the party's strong position here. 

But that doesn’t mean that there is no interest to be had in the contest at all. That the seat voted heavily to remain in the European Union – around 65 per cent according to Chris Hanretty’s estimates – will provide a glimmer of hope to the Liberal Democrats that they can finish a strong second, as they did consistently from 1992 to 2010, before slumping to fifth in 2015.

How they do in second place will inform how jittery Labour MPs with smaller majorities and a history of Liberal Democrat activity are about Labour’s embrace of Brexit.

They also have a narrow chance of becoming competitive should Labour’s selection turn acrimonious. The seat has been in special measures since 2004, which means the selection will be run by the party’s national executive committee, though several local candidates are tipped to run, with Afzal Khan,  a local MEP, and Julie Reid, a local councillor, both expected to run for the vacant seats.

It’s highly unlikely but if the selection occurs in a way that irritates the local party or provokes serious local in-fighting, you can just about see how the Liberal Democrats give everyone a surprise. But it’s about as likely as the United States men landing on Mars any time soon – plausible, but far-fetched. 

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