Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
15 January 2014

PMQs review: one for Miliband to forget as Cameron takes the gloves off

The "truce" between the two leaders lasted just a week as Cameron declared that Miliband had "all the moral authority of the Reverend Flowers".

By George Eaton

The problem with Ed Miliband’s decision to adopt a more emollient approach at PMQs is that it only works if David Cameron plays ball. Today’s session showed that he has no intention of doing so. In response to a politely worded question from Miliband on bank bonuses (“We all agree with the general points the prime minister makes about bonuses at RBS”), Cameron declared that he had “all the moral authority of the Reverend Flowers”, bringing any semblance of a “truce” to an end.

The PM had already taken the wind out of Miliband’s sails by announcing that the government would continue to limit cash bonuses at RBS to £2,000 and veto any increase in the overall pay bill. This left open the question of whether it would allow bonuses of up to 200% to be paid (not least because of the thousands of staff RBS has cut, creating the possibility of a per capita increase in pay), but it seemed to catch Miliband off guard and was enough for Cameron to claim a tactical victory.

When Miliband returned to his feet a few minutes later, after splitting his questions, his luck got no better. He noted that there were sites with planning permission where “a quarter of a million homes” could be built, before correcting this to “250,000”. When Cameron rose, he pounced on this tautology with ruthless efficiency, declaring “we just had a demonstration of the grasp of maths at the Treasury”. After that, Miliband never recovered, with Cameron loftily dismissing his questions on landbanking.

But as so often when he is at his most confident, Cameron overreached himself. In response to a question from one Labour backbencher, he boasted that “real wages are rising”. In reality, they remain 1.1% below inflation after falling for every month bar one (April 2013, when bankers deferred their bonuses in order to benefit from the reduction in the 50p rate of tax) since 2010. While Cameron has a better economic story to tell than at any point since the general election, he would be wise to avoid any hint that the living standards crisis is at an end. Anything else just allows Labour to repeat its favourite “out of touch” attack.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Content from our partners
What you need to know about private markets
Work isn't working: how to boost the nation's health and happiness
The dementia crisis: a call for action