Cameron and Miliband tussle over living standards – not for the first time, and certainly not for the last
By Peter Hoskin
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If you were hoping for something new from today’s PMQs exchange between David Cameron and Ed Miliband, then I’m afraid you’d have been left disappointed. The Labour leader used recent warnings from Mervyn King and from the Resolution Foundation to reheat one of his favourite themes: the cost of living. ‘Will living standards be better in 2015 than in 2010?’ he kept inquiring. While, for his part, the Prime Minister deployed some of his most time-worn responses: clearing up the mess that Labour left behind; they’ve got no policies; raising the personal income tax threshold, etc, etc. The two men managed to contrive a weary no-score draw between them.
But just because the script was familiar, it doesn’t mean that it lacked significance. Mr Miliband was surely right when he pointed out, in a plaintive echo of Ronald Reagan, that voters will be asking themselves whether they’re better off at the next election – and, with prices still rising faster than wages, there’s every chance that some will answer in the negative. The Conservatives need to develop rhetoric and policy to counter this possibility. As it happens, Mr Cameron’s favourite line today—and one I’m sure we’ll hear from him a lot more—was that a full-time worker on the minimum wage has seen their income tax bill halved under this Government. “They’re the people we stand for,” he said.
There was more novelty—to use a word of the day—in the backbench questions. This week’s new social care measures were mentioned approvingly by two Tory MPs, Claire Perry and David Mowat, with nary a murmur about the Inheritance Tax freeze that will help fund them. And the horsemeat scandal came up more than once, too – although generally in jest, as when Labour’s Anas Sarwar asked whether Mr Cameron’s words are “100% bull”. Here, the Prime Minister was quick to turn his answers around to the serious business of meetings, labelling, regulations and redress, no doubt in consideration of consumer concern about what’s going on.
Elsewhere in the half-hour, Penny Mordaunt had a pop at the Lib Dem candidate in Eastleigh, and Charlie Elphicke mentioned the rise in first-time buyers. But the most ear-catching moment of the whole session was when Mr Cameron fizzed at a Labour backbencher, “We won't forget the abolition of the 10p tax rate that clobbered every hardworking person in the country.” This could, of course, mean nothing much. But with Robert Halfon currently campaigning for the restoration of that tax rate, it makes you wonder. Perhaps George Osborne does have a trump card for the next Budget, after all.