Miliband 'confused over benefits'
David Cameron has accused Ed Miliband of "total and utter confusion" after it emerged that Labour will not seek to reverse the coalition's child benefit cuts.
The Prime Minister accused the Opposition leader of a U-turn after condemning the coalition's decision to strip payments from high earners.
Mr Miliband is expected to use a speech on Thursday to stress that the country's dire finances mean the party will have to make tough choices if it wins the general election. He is expected to hint strongly that the child benefit changes will not be reversed, and also indicate that he supports some form of overall cap on benefit budgets.
The intervention, which follows the announcement by shadow chancellor Ed Balls that Labour would end winter fuel payments for better-off pensioners, is being seen as a further attempt by the party to rebuild its economic credibility.
But in angry clashes at Prime Minister's Questions in the Commons, Mr Cameron said: "The very first time the leader of the Opposition came to that despatch box he attacked me for taking child benefit away from higher earners. And yet today we learn it is now Labour's official policy to take child benefit away from higher earners. Total and utter confusion."
Mr Miliband made no mention of the child benefit issue during his six questions in the House on Wednesday, despite being repeatedly challenged by Mr Cameron to explain his position. After the Labour leader focused his fire on health, the PM said: "Not a word about what he said two years ago, the very first time he stood at that despatch box, totally condemning and attacking in the strongest possible terms what now turns out to be Labour policy. What complete confusion and weakness from the leader of the opposition."
Mr Cameron told MPs at the end of the exchanges: "Isn't it interesting that in the week that was meant to be all about their economic relaunch, they can't talk about their economic policy. They told us they wanted to keep winter fuel payments, now they want to scrap winter fuel payments. They told us they wanted to keep child benefit, now they want to scrap child benefit.
"They told us they were going to be men of iron discipline, and yet they said, 'Do I think the last Labour government was profligate, spent too much, had too much national debt? No I don't think there's any evidence for that'. On the economy, they are weak, they are divided and they are the same old Labour."
In his speech earlier this week, Mr Balls signalled that Labour will stick within the coalition's 2015/16 limits for current spending if it wins the general election - although capital budgets could rise to help the economy. He said the "tough inheritance" the party faced meant 600,000 pensioners who paid higher or top-rate tax would be stripped of winter fuel benefits to save £100 million a year. But he stressed that free bus passes and TV licences would not be targeted, and declined to say whether the child benefit curbs for those earning more than £50,000 would be reversed.
Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg accused Labour of "flip-flopping". "They have been attacking and vilifying the coalition Government for making difficult decisions, sorting out the welfare system, for years, and now on the sly they let it be known that they actually wouldn't change the changes that we have introduced," he said. Asked if Labour's conversion meant the end to the principle of universal payments, Mr Clegg said the welfare system had to change to "focus benefits on those people in the greatest need".