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14 September 2011

PMQs review: Miliband attacks on the economy

Cameron mounted a robust defence, but the Labour leader landed some blows over today's unemployment

By Samira Shackle

Predictably, today’s PMQs focused on today’s dismal unemployment figures. Ed Miliband opened by referencing the 80,000 increase in people out of work, asking: “Is the British economy out of the danger zone?” David Cameron conceded that the results were “disappointing” and emphasised the government’s Work Programme and Enterprise Zones.

However, Miliband had a lot of ammunition. Slamming this as “spin”, he pointed out that unemployment among women and young people has risen under this government, blaming specific cuts to benefits and schemes. Later, he hammered slow private sector job growth and rising public sector unemployment, concluding: “This government is the byword for complacency”. In response to these criticisms, Cameron said that there had been a rise in private sector jobs, but was unable to offer any substantive counter-argument or solution, except that cuts were necessitated by Labour’s legacy.

Miliband also criticised George Osborne for failing to come up with a Plan B for the economy, going for some cheap laughs with a reference to Osborne’s alleged past involvement with a call girl specialising in domination. “The Chancellor of the Exchequer has lashed himself to the mast. Not for the first time perhaps,” he said, in an uncharacteristic comment which showed the Labour leader’s confidence, although it lowered the tone somewhat.

Cameron gave as good as he got, implying that Britain could have been Greece had it not been for his austerity programme, and attacking Miliband’s position on spending cuts: “Yesterday, he said that you can’t spend your way to a new economy, is that his position today?” However, today’s figures handed Miliband victory on a plate, and his continued emphasis on the government’s inaction was effective. Returning to youth unemployment figures at the end of the session, Miliband pointed out that they are at their highest since the 1980s, saying: “He’s just like all others — he thinks that unemployment is a price worth paying.”

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This is an effective attack-line — and a perception that Cameron will have to work against — as joblessness mounts.