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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.


And
there was significance, too, in Mr Miliband’s frequent references to the cut in
the top rate of tax (or the “millionaire’s tax cut,” as he calls it), which were
then repeated by two Labour backbenchers. The Opposition clearly has the taste
for a bit of class war, but the Prime Minister stood up firmly against it
today. As he pointed out, even at 45p the top rate of tax will still be higher
than the one that prevailed until the very last months of the Labour government.

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.

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