When Andy Burnham returned to the health beat for Labour, some in Andrew Lansley’s team were delighted. This is the man, they pointed out, who said he would not ringfence spending on the NHS. He even said that to do so would be “irresponsible” – hardly a vote-winning tactic.
David Cameron clearly thinks the same thing – that by shifting the focus of the health debate onto Burnham and his refusal to promise extra money for the NHS, he can nullify the controversy surrounding his health bill.
That is why, several times during today’s session of prime minister’s questions, Cameron insisted:
That’s what you get if you get Labour: no money, no reform, no good health service.
It was an interesting decision by Ed Miliband not to ask David Cameron about Fred Goodwin’s knighthood today, especially when he could have pushed the PM into the uncomfortable position of calling for other bankers to lose their titles. That possibly reflects a growing sense of unease, as voiced by Alistair Darling this morning, that one individual may have been unfairly singled out in a politically-motivated attack.
Instead, the Labour leader developed his theme of unfairness at the top of society, calling on the prime minister to implement the suggestions of the Walker review and ensure that banks have to disclose how many people they employ who earn over £1m a year.
The legislation to make this possible was passed under the last Labour government and with cross-party support, Miliband pointed out, why wouldn’t the PM enact it? Read more
It was no surprise that Ed Miliband led on the economy today, on the day that GDP figures showed a drop in output in the last quarter of last year.
The Labour leader’s questioning was more effective than usual. He has a new line that looks like it could pay off:
He and his chancellor are the byword for smug, self-satisfied complacency.
It certainly gives us all some relief from the previous ubiquitous epithet Labour applied to the prime minister and his party of “out of touch”. Read more
It was sensible of Ed Miliband to tackle the prime minister over unemployment at prime minister’s questions today. No matter what the coalition says about falling interest rates, if people keep losing their jobs, the government’s robust position in the polls (if not quite a lead) is not going to last very long.
Miliband has tried to recreate a narrative from the 1980s: that the callous Tories don’t care about people losing their jobs. It’s not quite working yet, partially because voters still believe the government is clearing up Labour’s economic mess and partially because the 1980s are a fading memory. At one point, the Labour leader even had to explain who he meant by one reference to Lord Young, the former Tory employment minister, who is back working at Number 10. Read more
This was a dangerous PMQs for Ed Miliband. The Christmas break has not been particularly good for the Labour leader, with criticism being fired at him from his own supposed “guru”, Maurice Glasman – and a more coded warning shot from his own front bench in the form of Jim Murphy.
His relaunch on Tuesday fared little better, as Jim mentioned in his post yesterday.
Miliband’s vulnerability was made clear when, on standing up to speak, he was given a bigger cheer by the Tory benches than his own. Read more
Ed Miliband started well at today’s PMQs, using David Cameron’s words from his 2011 New Year message to highlight the government’s failure to stop the rise in unemployment, which has hit a new 17-year high.
Miliband quotes the PM as saying: “What is uppermost in my mind is jobs,” before asking, “What went wrong?”
There then followed such a well-worn debate (“Unemployment is rising,” says Labour; “Here’s what we’re doing to tackle it,” say the Tories) that half the press gallery fell asleep during it. Read more
Most of the exchanges at PMQs today were fairly predictable in the light of yesterday’s autumn statement. Ed Miliband accused the prime minister of having failed to meet his fiscal plan; the prime minister accused Labour of wanting to borrow even more.
But there was a fascinating undercurrent running throughout this session, one that took us back to the politics of the 1970s and 80s.
It began with Miliband’s first question. Perhaps surprisingly, given links to the unions are often perceived as one of Labour’s weak points, he went straight in on the strike action by public sector workers taking place across the country today. Not only that, but he identified overtly with those on strike: Read more
Ed Miliband had some good lines ready for today’s prime minister’s questions. He decided to focus on youth unemployment, which recently topped 1 million people for the first time since records began.
Sensibly, he focused on long-term youth unemployment (over 12 months out of work, which is now at 260,000 people): both because Cameron would probably misinterpret the question and try to answer on overall youth unemployment (he did), and because the longer young people stay out of work, the harder it is for them to get back into the jobs market when the economy recovers.
Miliband decided to focus on the effect of scrapping Labour’s Future Jobs Fund, but Cameron was able to bat that away by referring to the Work Programme: Read more
It was an intriguing PMQs today. As I have previously noted, Ed Miliband has begun to find his feet on the economy, and once again used this as his main attack line.
As he has done at previous sessions he chose an obscure policy that has achieved little so far (this time the “business growth fund”, which was set up using money from the Merlin agreement), and used it to embarrass the PM.
As has happened before, Cameron didn’t know what the policy was (in fact at the end, he started talking about the Regional Growth Fund – a different fund altogether). So when asked how many businesses the fund had invested in, he was unable to answer. Read more
Ed Miliband’s interventions on Europe have a habit of serving only to bring David Cameron closer to his own backbenchers on the issue. On Monday, as Tory rebels lined up in their dozens to defy Cameron on an EU referendum, Miliband was the only one who managed to restore harmony on the Tory benches, uniting them in laughter when he said:
Apparently president Sarkozy – until recently his new best friend – had had enough of the posturing, lecturing and know-it-all ways. Let me say, Mr President, you spoke not just for France but for Britain as well.
At PMQs on Wednesday, a similar thing happened. Miliband had some good lines, including telling saying Cameron “was pleading with his backbenchers instead of leading for Britain in Europe”.
At today’s PMQs, we saw a first: it was the first time that Ed Miliband attacked Cameron on the economy, and won – well almost.
Provided with the ammunition of some terrible employment figures, Miliband had an ideal quote with which to bash the prime minister:
The prime minister justified his economic policy by saying unemployment would fall this year, next year and the year after. Isn’t it time he admitted his plan isn’t working?
On the day after George Osborne admitted that he had recently lowered his short-term growth expectations, and with a row currently waging over the government’s wish to scrap the popular 50p top rate of income tax, Ed Miliband might have been expected to use the first PMQs after the summer to attack David Cameron on the economy.
But instead, we found ourselves in two rather old arguments, about police numbers and NHS waiting lists. While both are undoubtedly important subjects, somehow the debate felt a bit off-topic.
The reason for Miliband avoiding the big issue of the day became apparent later in the session, when the prime minister was asked by a Labour backbencher about the 50p rate and replied:
The person responsible for Labour’s economic policy at the last election said that they had no credibility whatsoever.
He was referring to Alistair Darling, Labour’s former chancellor, whose memoirs published this week describe a 2009 pre-Budget report whose creation was so chaotic and disunified that it resulted in a complete mess of an economic policy. Read more