Kiran Stacey

David Cameron visit flood-hit SomersetThe prime minister surprised the Westminster press corps yesterday when he held a press conference to spell out his action to tackle flooding. It wasn’t just the press conference that surprised – it has been 238 days since his last at Downing Street – but what he said. He told reporters:

Money is no object in this relief effort. Whatever money is needed for, it will be spent.

He repeated that pledge at today’s PMQs, promising a string of spending measures to help relieve the burden on families and businesses. They include: Read more

Kiran Stacey

Last week, we reported on the suggestion by the BBC’s Nick Robinson that a truce had been agreed by Ed Miliband and David Cameron not to let PMQs descend into a slanging match. Certainly in the first week back after Christmas, we saw a new, civilised tone from both leaders and a rather subdued House having to watch it take place.

If there was ever an agreed truce, it lasted a week.

This week, Miliband led on bank bonuses – an issue on which Labour is currently leading the debate, as we revealed this morning. The Labour leader asked whether Cameron would accede to the request RBS is expected to make for bonuses of over 100 per cent of salary. The question was designed to embarrass the PM, who does intend to let RBS have their way. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Today’s PMQs was striking, but not particularly interesting.Ed Miliband decided to split his questions (always a recipe for taking some of the heat out). His first set were focused on the response to flooding over Christmas and New Year.

The Labour leader could have attacked the government for not doing more to get emergency services out in time, or not putting enough pressure on energy companies to restore power quickly. But he didn’t. Apparently seeking to start PMQs off on a calm and consensual note, Miliband began by asking:

Could the prime minister update the house on the number of people affected and what action is being taken now to ensure that areas affected by further flooding are getting the support they need?

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Kiran Stacey

The last PMQs before a recess is always important for doing what the session is really designed for: crystallising the mood of each side of the House.

Tomorrow MPs will head off to their constituencies for several weeks, where they will be unencumbered by daily Commons business and free of the whips’ influence. It is during these breaks that leaders can become unstable and plots can begin to form, and so it is even more important for the leaders of the two main parties to give their troops something to cheer at this time.

Under these terms, today’s PMQs was a clear victory for Cameron. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Last week, Ed Miliband was beaten by the prime minister after failing to build a clear narrative from his rather scattergun questions. This week he was more disciplined, and had a clear and coherent attack. For some reason however, it didn’t generate the response from Labour MPs you might expect.

The Labour leader decided to lead on the government’s decision to set a cap on the amount of interest payday lenders can charge. It might not have been an obvious attack, given Labour also supports the policy, but Miliband worked it cleverly to his advantage, asking why this sort of market intervention is a good thing, when capping energy energy prices constitutes “Marxism”:

How did he go from believing that intervening in the markets is living in a Marxist universe to believing it is the solemn duty of government?

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Kiran Stacey

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?

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Kiran Stacey

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

Kiran Stacey

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

Kiran Stacey

David Cameron

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

Kiran Stacey

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

Kiran Stacey

Nick Clegg leafletAs a fellow hack remarked to me on the way out of the Commons chamber after PMQs this week, imagine if it had been the other way round.

Imagine that David Cameron had not been in New York and had been taking prime minister’s questions instead of Nick Clegg, his deputy. And imagine that Lib Dem after Lib Dem – five in total – had stood up to attack the prime minister over their pet project – let’s say the mansion tax, for example. What would have happened?

Almost undoubtedly, there would have been fury on the Tory benches. Cameron would probably have told Clegg to get his troops in line and Conservative backbenchers would have complained quite fairly that the government agenda was being derailed by something that only one side really cared about. Read more

Kiran Stacey

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

Kiran Stacey

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

Kiran Stacey

Today’s exchanges at PMQs sounded fairly hackneyed and well-worn. Ed Miliband chose to ask about the economy, and the usual argument took place – the Labour leader accused the coalition of stifling growth, the prime minister said it was all Labour’s fault for borrowing too much.

But Miliband did give one revealing answer during the debate. The Labour leader pointed out:

[Cameron] is borrowing £212bn more than he promised.

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Kiran Stacey

Two big questions remained after David Cameron’s landmark speech on Britain’s role in Europe this morning: would it do enough to please his eurosceptic backbenchers, and how would Ed Miliband respond?

We got the answer to both at PMQs. We know now that for the moment, Cameron has got his party off his back, and that Labour are not about to promise a referendum of their own.

The atmosphere in the Commons was electric as the leaders took their places. The Tory benches were packed with grinning faces – this looked like being a good day for Cameron, and so it proved. He even got a cheer for starting his first answer by saying: Read more

Kiran Stacey

Douglas Alexander was touring television studios this morning explaining why he thought holding a referendum on Britain’s EU membership was a bad idea. After months of toying with the idea of copying the Tories in promising an in/out referendum in the next parliament, Labour seems to have finally decided that would be a bad idea.

This uncharacteristic decisiveness gave Ed Miliband a platform from which to attack David Cameron in today’s PMQs, and the Labour leader made the most of it. His first question was meant to embarrass the PM and amuse his own party, and it worked: Read more

Kiran Stacey

Ed Miliband chose not to ask David Cameron about the Leveson report today, which has arrived on the PM’s desk, but not the Labour leader’s.

It would have been tempting for Miliband to try and force Cameron into saying something that would then limit his options for how to respond to the report when he does so tomorrow, but instead he chose the more concrete attack of the government’s failing back-to-work scheme, the Work Programme.

Miliband was on solid ground. The key statistic on the programme is that it has found six months’ worth of work (or three months, if the person is particularly difficult to help) for just 2.3 per cent of those on it. The Labour leader held the killer stat until his second question though, coyly beginning with a request for Cameron to “update the house on its progress”. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Nick CleggNick Clegg always has a hard time taking over from the prime minister at PMQs. Without the vocal support of hundreds of his own MPs behind him, he can often be left looking helpless at the mercy of Labour barracking.

This week, with contentious negotiations on the European budget looming, should have been even worse. If there’s one thing that backbench Tories hate more than the Lib Dem leader, it is the Lib Dem leader talking about Europe

But Harriet Harman, asking the questions in Ed Miliband’s place, missed that open goal. Instead of asking about the one topic sure to leave him looking exposed and distant from the benches behind him, she asked about the Leveson inquiry, childcare costs and the police. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Ed MilibandIf Labour wanted evidence of how difficult they will find it to outflank the Tories on Europe, it was there for them today during prime minister’s questions. This afternoon’s debate, during which Tory rebels will vote to push the government into backing a cut in the EU budget, seemed to offer the Labour leader a golden opportunity to embarrass Cameron in front of his own backbenches.

But the ploy failed. As Miliband attacked on why the PM didn’t back a cut in the budget, Cameron hit back, criticising the Labour leader of opportunism:

The whole country will see through what is rank opportunism… Labour gave away half our rebate in one negotiation. Today, they haven’t even put down their own resolution on this issue.

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Kiran Stacey

The FT, the Guardian, the Mail and the Independent all agreed this morning; the reshuffle was David Cameron’s turn to the right. In came Chris Grayling, out went Ken Clarke. In came Owen Paterson to Defra, in came Michael Fallon to the business department. One Number 10 official remarked yesterday described Grayling as “a good rightwing appointment”. I don’t think I have ever heard someone so close to Cameron saying anything like that before.

Our analysis on how important a moment this could be can be found here.

The problem is, Labour doesn’t seem to get it (to coin a phrase). Ed Miliband decided instead to attack the prime minister for carrying out a “no change” reshuffle: Read more