LABOUR MPs yesterday declared their new leader Ed Miliband won “hands-down” after taking on David Cameron at his first Prime Minister’s Questions.
Mr Miliband attacked the Government’s planned child benefit cuts as a “shambles”, displaying no signs of nerves despite Tory jokes that he only won his job - over his brother David, the South Shields MP - thanks to union support.
Mr Cameron struggled to defend the anomaly where a family on £45,000 where one parent stayed at home lost child benefit, while another on £80,000 with both parents working kept it.
Bishop Auckland MP Helen Goodman, part of the Shadow Justice team, said: “It was a hands-down victory.
“That is why I wanted him to have the job because he is very good at it. He doesn’t do what Cameron expects him to do and that is very clever.”
Shadow Defence Minister Kevan Jones, who represents North Durham, said: “I think he wrong-footed Cameron. It was a very good performance for a first outing.”
But Sir Alan Beith, Liberal Democrat MP for Berwick, said: “It is always a challenge doing the Opposition job, but when you haven’t got a clear policy from which to work it becomes pretty unconvincing.
“Setting yourself up as the defender of the best-off 15% of the population and telling Labour voters in council estates they need to keep paying child benefit to the most wealthy 15% of the population is a pretty sticky wicket for a Labour leader.”
Mr Miliband joined Mr Cameron in his tributes to fallen British troops and aid worker Linda Norgrove, backing Foreign Secretary William Hague’s decision to authorise an attempt to rescue her. Mr Miliband promised to work “constructively” with the Prime Minister on Afghanistan and reforming sickness benefits.
But he added: “On child benefit, isn’t it time the Prime Minister had the grown-up sense to admit this: he’s got it wrong, he’s made the wrong decision, he should tell middle-income families up and down the country he will think again.”
A family - such as a police inspector or deputy headteacher - with three children on £33,000 a year after tax would lose £2,500 from 2013 - the equivalent of a 6p hike in their income tax, he said.
Mr Cameron said £1bn was being handed to relatively better-off homes through child benefit, adding: “We think that has to change and I have to ask him why he thinks that is not the case?” He also asked the Labour leader whether it was fair his poor constituents paid for his child benefit.
Mr Miliband replied: “I may be new to this game, but I think I ask the questions.”
Awarding the Prime Minister “nought out of two on straight answers”, he said: “We should try to change the tone of these exchanges, but he must provide straight answers.”
Mr Cameron compared the new Labour leader to his predecessor Gordon Brown by deploying short-term political tactics.
And the Prime Minister highlighted support for the child benefit change from ex-Labour Cabinet Minister Alan Milburn, adding: “All the Labour politicians who used to win elections have been thrown out of the window.”
He added Mr Miliband had suddenly discovered “middle-income families” after years of taxing them in Government, saying: “It’s a completely transparent political strategy to cover up the inconvenient truth that he was put where he is by the trade union movement.”