Conservative MPs dutifully, or worse enthusiastically, traipsed into the voting lobbies yesterday to reject a “fair deal” for Tier 3 areas and to oppose free school meals during holidays in the coronavirus crisis. Yet it was not these votes in the House of Commons but a heckle by Angela Rayner that made the news, after she appeared to call Tory MP Chris Clarkson “scum” during a debate.
Labour’s deputy leader apologised last night, but the response of many party activists has of course been: well, they are scum. Those close to Rayner said her response came after Clarkson accused the opposition frontbench of “opportunism” and of holding the vote “for release on social media afterwards”. As Rayner mentioned in the debate, her aunt died of Covid-19 only last week.
It was certainly a heated session in the chamber: Toby Perkins said the Tories were “screwing people over”, Rebecca Long-Bailey compared the sink-or-swim approach to The Hunger Games, and other key moments can be found in my write-up. Just two Tory MPs rebelled in the vote and supported Labour’s call for an 80%, not 67%, furlough scheme.
The debate that followed, on the motion to support Marcus Rashford’s free school meals campaign, was no less intense. 320 Conservatives voted against, and five voted with Labour. Worse than that were the speeches, including that of Brendan Clarke-Smith who declared “I do not believe in nationalising children”, dismissed “celebrity virtue signalling” and called for everyone to “get back to the idea of taking responsibility”.
Rayner’s heckle was not in keeping with the new Labour leadership’s sober style. But any person capable of empathy will have understood where that anger came from, and – if watching the debates that followed – will have seen many on the Tory benches do nothing to disprove her. They talked about free school meals in terms of parents not taking responsibility. We’re in the middle of a pandemic and devastating economic crisis, yet still their ‘scrounger’ rhetoric survives – no matter that Serco receives 40% of its income from the UK government.
Rishi Sunak will deliver his third economic update in a month, once again revising his winter economic plan this morning. He is expected to announce support for businesses and workers in Tier 2. The measures will undoubtedly be welcome, though not go far enough. A new joint statement from trade union, mayors, MPs and councillors brought together by Unite has called for 80% furlough and more. The Chancellor is not thought likely to deliver on these demands, but they will become increasingly necessary. Roll on, economic update number four.Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.