Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
15 October 2014updated 20 Aug 2021 8:49am

PMQs review: Miliband rattles Cameron with attack on Lord Freud over disabled comments

The PM was forced to condemn his welfare minister for saying that disabled people may not be worth the "full wage".

By George Eaton

There were no punches pulled at today’s PMQs. Confronted by a hoarse Ed Miliband (“I have a sore throat but I wouldn’t have missed this meeting with the Prime Minister for the world,” he explained), David Cameron brutally replied: “If he gets a doctor’s appointment, I hope he doesn’t forget it”. But, anticipating this jibe, the Labour leader had prepared a sharp riposte: “He obviously noticed that I lost a couple of paragraphs in my speech. I have noticed that since we last met he has lost a couple of his members of parliament.”

He went on to wisely acknowledge today’s large fall in unemployment, before Cameron could accuse him of avoiding it, but pointed out that real wages are still falling. It’s worth reflecting on how few Tories thought Miliband would still be able to deploy his “cost-of-living” attack in October 2014 (a fact that explains why this has so far been a voteless recovery for them). Cameron gave his now standard reply that it is Labour’s recession that explains why wage growth has been so poor, a line that may not appease those who recall he has been in No.10 for more than four years.

But it is was when Miliband turned to welfare minister Lord Freud’s comments on disabled people and the minimum wage that he really rattled the Prime Minister. After the Labour leader noted that Freud had declared that the disabled may not be worth the “full wage”, and asked him whether they represented the view of the government, Cameron immediately condemned the comments: “No absolutely not, of course disabled people should be paid the minimum wage and the minimum wage is now going up in real terms.” Miliband, however, persisted and demanded the sacking of Freud. In response, an increasingly uneasy Cameron, retorted: “I don’t need lectures from anyone about looking after disabled people … instead of casting aspersions why doesn’t he get back to talking about the economy?” But his personal interest in this issue (owing to his late son) only begs the question of how Freud can continue to serve under him. Gaining momentum, a passionate Miliband ended: “In the dog days of this government the Conservative Party is going back to its worst intincts – unfunded tax cuts, hitting the poorest – the nasty part is back.” 

It was a successful ambush of Cameron on what should have been a good day for the PM (given the fall in unemployment and Labour’s internal angst). Freud will now be forced to issue an unambiguous apology, or be sacked; both are uncomfortable outcomes for the Tories. Hoarse in voice, but strong in soul, Miliband managed to restore some faith in his leadership today. 

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Content from our partners
How to create a responsible form of “buy now, pay later”
“Unions are helping improve conditions for drivers like me”
Transport is the core of levelling up