A rather strange and fractious PMQs today. Amid much gnashing of teeth about the allegations surrounding Paul Flowers, the former chair of the Co-Op bank, and his links to Labour, Ed Miliband set off in an unexpected direction at the beginning of his questions. He asked the prime minister about “his campaign against the closure of children’s centres in Chipping Norton”.
It was an intriguing opening and Cameron floundered for a bit talking about “difficult decisions” on children’s centres. Miliband followed up by saying:
He has even signed a petition to save the children’s centre in his own area. Is he taking it right to the top?
In the wake of the Labour party conference, hacks returned from Brighton with one question for Tory advisers: how will you counter Ed Miliband’s energy price freeze?
We won’t, came the reply. We don’t want to get into a micro-battle about who has the best giveaways for the public on cost-of-living. We will keep the focus on the big picture, on the nascent economic recovery – how that is the only thing that can sustain rising living standards and only we can be trusted to safeguard it.
That policy made sense, and was stuck to for a few weeks at least. During his conference speech, the prime minister resisted the temptation to promise a big giveaway, or really, any significant policy whatsoever. His critics said it was lacklustre, his supporters said it perfectly matched the tone of “steady as she goes”. Read more
At his 2011 conference speech, Ed Miliband argued there were two kinds of business: “predators” and “producers”. The speech was not well received, not least because the bluntness of the message was not even backed up by any concrete examples of companies that fell into either category. Miliband’s attacked was drastically weakened by the fact that he was not willing to name any specific targets it was aimed at.
Well now he has. Last week, the Labour leader told the FT that SEE, the energy company that is raising bills by 8.2 per cent, was engaging in “predatory behaviour”. Today at PMQs, he went even further – but even more interestingly, he argued against one of the central tenets of free-market capitalism.
Arguing against SSE’s action, Miliband said: Read more
Despite the protestations of those close to Ed Miliband, yesterday’s Labour reshuffle looked very much like a cull of the Blairites. Jim Murphy, Ivan Lewis, Stephen Twigg and Liam Byrne, figures associated closely with Tony Blair, were all demoted. For someone like Jim Murphy, who had been told what a good job he was doing by the leadership, that came as a surprise to say the least.
So it was no surprise when Dan Hodges, the Telegraph blogger, wrote this morning:
The biggest impact will be on Labour’s fragile, and mythical, unity. Until now the remaining Blairites in Labour’s ranks have been content to sit back and wait for Ed Miliband to lose the 2015 election, then pick up the pieces afterwards. They will see today as an act of war. Miliband has signalled there is no place for them in his party, and they will respond accordingly.
Ed Miliband made one of his earliest passages in today’s conference speech a paean to the green economy. Having reportedly forgotten to mention it in last year’s similar no-note speech, the Labour leader made sure he got it in early this time.
He told the conference:
You see some people say, including George Osborne that we can’t afford to have an environmental commitment at a time like this. He’s wrong, we can’t afford not to have an environmental commitment at a time like this.
This brief stint when parliament returns from its summer break only to depart again two weeks later for party conferences is a slightly strange innovation. Its main purpose is to help the government get through its agenda (the lobbying bill is being pushed through parliament at the moment, for example), but it also helps set the mood of all three parties as they head towards their annual get-togethers.
For a leader who has enjoyed a relatively good summer, it is a chance to use that as a rallying point and gain extra momentum before conference. For one who has had a difficult one, the emphasis must be on scoring a couple of quick hits to give the troops some hope at least.
Ed Miliband has had a difficult summer, as a complete lack of direction from Labour HQ saw the government dominate the news agenda. But he was given a reprieve in the form of the prime minister’s botched Syria vote, which made it appear briefly that Miliband was more influential in forming foreign policy than the prime minister. Read more
This weekend, a YouGov poll for the Sunday Times showed Labour with a 10-point lead over the Tories. After a bruising summer for Ed Miliband, during which he has been accused of floundering and letting the coalition dictate the news agenda, this was welcome news in the Labour camp.
The polls have been steady for a long time now, giving Labour a lead of somewhere between 3 and 10 points (largely depending on where Ukip are – more of which later). Given the party probably only needs a two-point lead to win an overall majority, the party looks fair set. At least, that’s the argument of long-time Ed supporter Mehdi Hasan, who argued last week: Read more
When Ed Miliband was deliberating last week on the approach to take for Thursday’s vote on military strikes against Syria, he kept his team very tight. Miliband, Stewart Wood, Douglas Alexander, Tim Livesey (his chief of staff) and Hilary Benn (the former development secretary) were the inner circle. Others were not necessarily deliberately excluded, but simply not present when the key decisions were being made.
Over the weekend, many of those others – especially the Blairites – began to express disquiet at the result. Ben Bradshaw, the former minister, said the result was “not what any of the main parties or their leaders wanted”. Jim Murphy, Labour’s shadow defence secretary, said: “There is some unease about the outcome off the vote and I share it. It’s not what I wanted.” Read more
Labour people are starting to come back from their holidays, and they are in a mood little short of despair. Ed Miliband’s “summer of silence” and the criticism it has attracted from some of the party’s biggest beasts have made for a rather gloomy return for many of their MPs and advisers.
Miliband is relying on two events to reset that narrative and re-energise his party: the conference speech and a reshuffle either soon before or soon after conference. Both timings might seem unfair: just before the conference and new shadow ministers don’t have enough time to prepare for interviews and speeches; just after and all the hard pre-conference work is wasted. But such is politics. Read more
This morning Labour is trying to relaunch its summer after a fairly lethargic first couple of weeks in which the party was knocked sideways by outspoken comments by the previously little known MP George Mudie.
Chris Leslie, the shadow chief secretary, is holding a press event on falling living standards under the coalition, pointing to polling showing 70 per cent of voters believe recent improvements in the economy have not benefited middle- and lower-income families.
But the event is unlikely to quell concerns in Labour about the party’s apparent lack of direction. My colleague Jim Pickard reports in this morning’s FT some very revealing comments from a former senior Miliband supporter. Read more
Len McCluskey’s speech today to members of his Unite union was something of a barnstormer. The union boss was forthright on his views of the Labour party and its investigation into what happened in Falkirk, where Unite is accused of manipulating Labour candidate selection to boost its favoured candidates.
McCluskey tore into Ed Miliband and those around him, calling their decision to refer the Falkirk matter to police an “utter, utter disgrace”. He added:
Assertion was passed off as fact, allegation became reality.
Another strange twist in the Labour/Falkirk story. After days of insisting this was an internal party matter, the party has now handed its investigation into the matter to police.
The allegations are that the Unite union bulk-bought membership of the party for its officers in an attempt to unfairly influence the outcome of the ballot to select a new candidate in the Scottish constituency.
The affair yesterday claimed the scalp of Tom Watson (left), Ed Miliband’s elections coordinator, who is close to Unite – he is a former flatmate of its secretary general, Len McCluskey. The party also suspended officials up in Falkirk and suspended the candidate selection process, hoping that might put an end to the matter. Read more
Traditional roles were reversed at today’s PMQs. Cameron pulled the ingenious trick of almost entirely ignoring what Ed Miliband asked (it was about school places). He attacked instead on the news that Unite have apparently tried to unfairly influence the outcome of a Labour candidate selection process in Falkirk.
The attacks were clumsily crowbarred in, but that will not matter when it comes to replaying the clips on television tonight. Here was one example: Read more
George Osborne has been touring the TV and radio studios this morning talking about the deals he has managed to strike with some of the smaller government departments for how they are going to cut their budgets in 2015/16. Talking about the settlements made with departments including Justice, Energy and Communities, the chancellor told the BBC:
We are now about 20 per cent of the way there with a month to go. I don’t think any chancellor in history has made this much progress with a month to go.
Osborne still has a huge amount to achieve in the next month, particularly in the face of intransigence from big departments such as the MoD and the Home Office. But in the middle of the spending round process, another decision on a massive item of government spending will also come a step closer. Read more
At around 8pm last night, someone in Sir George Young’s office phoned someone in Ed Miliband’s office. Not enough Tories are going to vote against the amendment from Tim Loughton intended to wreck the gay marriage bill, the person explained. Labour would have to vote against or risk the bill being derailed.
Ed Miliband agreed, and encouraged his MPs to do the same. In the end, the amendment was defeated, but only thanks to Labour’s action. So it was no surprise to see headlines such as that in the Guardian this morning, which read: Read more
Over lunch recently, a Labour strategist spelled out the terms of the next election in the starkest terms. “They want to fight it on welfare,” he explained. “We want to fight on the NHS.”
So despite the threat of the statistics authorities confirming that Britain has entered a triple-dip recession tomorrow, Ed Miliband chose to focus this PMQs on the NHS.
The problem was, his material is a little thin. He began by mentioning rising waiting times in A&E wards, as well as the example in Norwich of an inflatable tent being used as a makeshift ward. His first question was: Read more
As today’s parliamentary session in memory of Margaret Thatcher began, several journalists repositioned themselves in the Tory side of the chamber, looking at Ed Miliband. The Labour leader, it was though, would have the most difficult job, caught between being respectful and saying what he really thought about the Tory leader whom so many of his colleagues spent decades opposing and trying to oust.
In the end, he played a difficult hand very well. The key passage was one where he listed her successes and mistakes. I will quote the entire passage below, but it’s worth noticing three things:
1) He quotes the successes first, and is generous about them, even her economic legacy;
2) He mentions some of what her critics see as her most egregious mistakes, such as section 28 and her lack of concern for society as a whole;
3) When mentioning her mistakes, he nullified Tory moans by praising the Tories for turning their backs on them. Read more
Amid the genteel surroundings of the Park Lane Hotel ballroom last night at the CBI’s annual black-tie dinner, Lord Mandelson was at his waspish best.
His keynote speech was ostensibly about Britain’s role in Europe, but he couldn’t resist throwing in a few barbed remarks about his Labour colleagues, both past and present. Departing from his pre-prepared script, the former business secretary had this to say about Gordon Brown, the man he served so closely in the dying days of the Labour government:
I can’t remember which who the member of the government was who claimed we abolished boom and bust. Well, we abolished boom…
Since Thursday, the manoeuvrings over press regulation have taken increasingly more surreal turns.
First we had the prime minister abruptly calling off the talks, citing irreconcilable differences with Labour and the Lib Dems. Clegg and Miliband were only given a couple of hours’ notice about the announcement, journalists were given 30 minutes.
After that, it looked like the prime minister was heading for inevitable defeat in a vote today on the Lib-Lab proposals for a Royal Charter backed by statute. His aides seemed to recognise such, saying that the prime minister would promise to repeal such a law if there was a Tory majority in 2015. Read more
Sometimes when a leader of the opposition has a lot of different attacks to make on a prime minister at PMQs, they try to spread themselves too thinly and end up not hitting home with any of their pre-prepared lines.
Not so today. Ed Miliband was faced with a choice selection of easy pickings with which to attack the prime minister, and blended them together perfectly to leave David Cameron looking red-faced and ineffectual.
The Labour leader began with an uncharacteristically well-delivered joke about the apparent u-turn on minimum alcohol pricing: Read more