The PM went into the Chamber today bolstered by last week’s by-election win in Copeland – the first time a sitting government in power has taken a seat off the opposition since 1982. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take long for her to raise the victory, much to the delight of her benches, but the session as a whole certainly wasn’t plain sailing. Ben Winter watches PMQs so you don’t have to.
Issue of the Week
Last week it was social care, this week mental health. Corbyn knows health and social care is traditionally solid ground for Labour, and anything but for the PM and her government. It was reported earlier this week that the government would be reversing the effects of a court ruling that expands the number of people who can claim the disability benefit, Personal Independence Payments, giving claimants more points for mental health conditions. No.10 was caused some blushes when George Freeman, policy unit head, turned a dry policy announcement into a twitter storm by saying that those “taking pills at home, who suffer from anxiety” should not receive PIP.
Corbyn found some solid lines of attack, opening by asking the PM why it was fair that her government had found the money to reduce inheritance tax by £1bn to benefit 26,000 people, but couldn’t find the cash to support 160,000 with debilitating mental health conditions.
But despite a solid performance, Corbyn failed to get one over on his opponent, whose team had clearly anticipated the issue and prepared her well. Perhaps George Freeman’s comments, and resulting media attention, were a blessing in disguise for the PM after all…
So no winner in the Chamber today, but if Corbyn has managed to push the issue back up the media agenda his team will claim victory, even if only internally.
Labour certainly did look dandy, with many MPs sporting a daffodil to celebrate St David’s Day, however it was the Conservative Party buoyed by the Copeland win who were loudest.
The ticketing website Viagogo had an uncomfortable moment in the spotlight as Nigel Adams (Cons, Selby & Ainsty) brought to the PM’s attention ticket touting on their platform, which he had previously described as ‘morally repugnant’. Adams highlighted a recent incident where the platform, which allows people to re-sell their gig and event tickets, was profiting from the resale of an Ed Sheeran concert in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust. Noting that the charity would see none of the profit, he asked the PM what her government would do to “ensure that genuine fans are not fleeced by ticket touts and rogues.”
Trudy Harrison, the first Conservative MP elected to represent Copeland since 1931, was sworn in the end of the session.
We don’t watch PMQs for the laughs, and it’s just as well. May used her last answer to Jeremy Corbyn to try and get one in, reminding the House of the shadow cabinet minister Cat Smith’s assessment of Labour’s loss in Copeland, which she had tried to spin as a “incredible achievement”. Perhaps she should have left it there, as her next line was frankly a little bit odd…