PMQs review: Miliband comes out swinging for the mansion tax

The Labour leader has doubled-down on his strategy of painting Cameron as the friend of the rich and himself as the friend of poor. 

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Rather than being unnerved by Ed Miliband's clash with Myleene Klass over the mansion tax on The Agenda, Labour aides regard it as a valuable opportunity to make the case for a popular policy. At today's PMQs, Miliband did just that, contrasting his support for the mansion tax (backed by 72 per cent of the public) with David Cameron's support for the bedroom tax (opposed by 59 per cent). In response, Cameron sought to defend the latter as the removal of the unjustified "spare room subsidy" but he was fighting a battle lost long ago. 

Aided by the proximity of tomorrow's Rochester by-election, and the Tories' now certain defeat to Ukip, Miliband had opened by dryly remarking: "Let’s see if they’re still cheering on Friday". He later declared: "Two of the people behind him have jumped ship. And the other people are waiting for the result to see if they should follow." Cameron predictably sought to turn Miliband's encounter with Klass to his advantage, deriding his "pasting from a pop star" and quipping: "We’re not seeing a Klass act". But his jibes only served to demonstrate how unwilling he was to make a principled defence of the mansion tax. 

In response, Miliband threw populist punch after populist punch (evidence of the fire inserted in the leader's belly by the newly-promoted Jon Trickett and Lucy Powell) . "He only feels the pain of people struggling to find a £2m garage. That is this Prime Minister," he declared (a reference to Klass's moan that it was impossible to afford more in London). He went on to turn to the NHS, Labour's strongest suit, and the promised recipient of the £1.2bn the party hopes the mansion tax would raise.

But it was Miliband's last line that will live longest in the memory. "We all know, Mr Speaker, why this Prime Minister thinks the bedroom tax is great and the mansion tax to fund the NHS is terrible. If you’ve got big money you’ve got a friend in this prime minister. If you haven’t he couldn’t care less," he cried. It was a reminder of how sharp the dividing lines will be at this election and a demonstration of Labour's belief that its best hope lies in framing the Tories as the friends of the rich and themselves as the friends of the poor. It is a strategy antithetical to that of New Labour, which sought partnership, rather than confrontation, with the elite. But defying the dissenters within and without of his party, it is one that Miliband has doubled-down on. Should he achieve victory on these terms, decades-long assumptions about the "centre ground" of British politics will be blown apart.   

George Eaton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.