With the EU referendum dominating the headlines for a following week, one might forget that the party leaders have other issues to debate. Leonie Martin and Marie Lorimer report on this week’s PMQs.
Issue of the week
What was the issue of the week? The simple answer is schools, but could be otherwise expressed repeatedly as schools, education, academies, centre of learning etc.. The Prime Minister gave a similar response today to what is fast becoming Jeremy Corbyn’s signature PMQs gaffe, a series of unfocused, open-ended, and woolly questions which demand repeated answers.
Questions centred on forced academisation of schools on this occasion, an issue where Labour is relatively united and Cameron is facing significant internal opposition. Cameron defended the plans as “true devolution” and made clear that he would push ahead with plans to force all schools to become academies so they were run by “headteachers, not bureaucrats”.
Corbyn exhibited glimmers of promise this week, asking sharp and direct questions which drew attention to internal Conservative opposition. Highlighting criticism from Conservative MPs, teachers, parents and councillors from Cameron’s own constituency, set Corbyn up for a strong start.
His collapse was, however, once again crystallised by his lack of skill at the dispatch box. Once given free rein to rebuke the Prime Minister’s argument, he was unable to respond in a consistent manner. His emotionally charged and vaguely phrased questions merely left space for Cameron project his policy platform. Goal for Cameron. However, props must go to Corbyn for choosing an 11-year-old old as the vehicle to deliver criticism of ‘top-down’ reorganisation.
Stella Creasy raised the case of Michelle Samaraweera who was raped and murdered in the Labour MPs constituency of Walthamstow in 2009. Aman Vyas, who stands accused of Samaraweera’s murder and the sexual assault of other women, has resisted all attempts at extradition from India to face trial in the UK. Creasy’s question is proof that a simple and precise call to action can generate results. According to her Twitter feed, she has already been contacted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in response to her question.
It’s tough to recall the last time Labour was the rowdiest party in the chamber. However, this week Cameron sparked a fierce reaction from Labour MPs when he accused the Labour candidate for London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, of sharing platforms with extremists. Many Labour MPs shouted “racist” at the Prime Minister as he explained the justification for his comments and since PMQs, Chukka Ummna MP and Jo Cox MP have condemned Cameron’s remarks to the press. No doubt there’ll be more to come.
This is clearly an issue the party feels strongly about. Corbyn hasn’t motivated this kind of reaction from his party since taking up the mantle as leader, despite countless attacks from Cameron. Instead, Khan, an MP which has been critical of Corbyn in recent times, has inspired a unified response.
Corporate mention / joke of the week
The most notable candidate for joke (or fail) of the week came from Cameron, in which he shoehorned John McDonnell into a jibe about Labour’s decision to ban McDonalds from their party conference: “When I read they were going to ban McDonnell from their party conference I thought it was the first sensible decision they made. But it turns out it wasn’t the job destroyer they wanted to keep away – it was one of the UK’s biggest employers.” As if, it couldn’t get any worse, he then followed the quip by adding “Frankly, I’m loving it.” Groan.
The arguably funnier runner-up came when Corbyn quoted the Member for Education at Oxfordshire council, who is opposed to diktats from central government. Cameron quickly rebuked saying ‘it’s always good to get a lecture on diktats from someone whose press secretary is an avowed Stalinist’ (Seumas Milne), to the sounds of a few Tory jeers.