PMQs verdict: If May is proud of her record – why no debate?

19th April, 2017 2:13 pm

“If she’s so proud of her record, why won’t she debate it?”

Jeremy Corbyn had a strong performance at today’s PMQs, the penultimate edition before the snap general election. The debate was higher quality than it has been for some weeks, and the Labour leader’s message was disciplined.

May’s was targeted on her u-turn on going to the polls – after repeatedly saying, as recently as last month, that she wouldn’t call a vote – which was pointed out by Corbyn in his opening remarks. The PM’s hope to be trusted all seems to be part of her “safe pair of hands” pitch. Jabs like this from Corbyn seem to get under her skin, and erode this image that she has tried to cultivate.

Corbyn’s questions continued to criticise the government’s record, and he did what he sometimes missed in the past by offering an overarching approach to topics that he covered, including their failings on the economy, saying that all her government has achieved is “more debt and less funding for schools and hospitals”

Questions from the backbenches were all also strong, with evidence perhaps of some co-ordination – three MPs asked about school funding cuts, following on from Corbyn’s jibes on the “failed” austerity policy, and Jenny Chapman criticises Tory plans to downgrade the hospital in her constituency. Gerald Jones questioned why the government has cut housing benefit for the under 25s, a cruel policy.

We were given a real treat too, with veteran MP Dennis Skinner turning his iconic fire on the Tories.

“Will the PM give a guarantee that no Tory MP who is under investigation by the police and legal authorities over election expenses in the last general election be a candidate in this election because if she won’t accept that, this is a most squalid election campaign that has happened in my lifetime?” Skinner asked.

May, of course, would not, and the ongoing question mark hanging over many Tories makes this general election seem all the more opportunistic and tawdry.

Yvette Cooper continued her pattern of asking brutal questions from the backbenches, and whilst Corbyn might have already attacked May on her U-turn, Cooper went in for the knock out blow – laying out just why it is the PM cannot be trusted. Cooper tore apart the justification for holding the vote, that Brexit is being frustrated in parliament, by pointing to the majority that article 50 got in the House.

Cooper reeled off the times May ruled out an early vote, ending with: “That wasn’t true, was it? She wants her to believe she is a woman of her word; isn’t the truth that we can’t believe a single word she says?”

Incidentally, Cooper also saw her odds to be the next Labour leader slashed in the minutes after PMQs ended.

May was visibly rattled by Cooper’s intervention, and the noise in the House rose in response to her attack.

Corbyn, and other Labour MPs, hit May where it hurts today. If this is a sign of the fight Labour will offer in the general election campaign to come, then, amid the gloomy polls, we all have more reasons to be hopeful.

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