Alice Kennedy watched today’s PMQs, so in case you missed it – here’s her take…
Issue of the week
In the final PMQs ahead of conference recess, May began the session with an update on the UK’s response to Hurricane Irma before moving on to recognise British Farming Week – for which several Tory MPs were sporting large NFU lapel pins, presumably standing in solidarity with farmers in the face of vandals running through their fields of wheat. It was however public sector cuts that dominated the debate once again, with Corbyn honing in on the public sector pay cap, disability benefits and student debt. Despite this week’s lift on public sector pay rises in England and Wales – the first in seven years – providing rises for police and prison officers, May struggled to defend a lack of real-term improvement in pay against rising inflation at 2.9%.
Corbyn continued his confident approach of late and managed to maintain the effective line of questioning that was showcased last week. His performance saw him play it safe, sticking to an issue that Government is finding increasingly difficult to defend, and even accusing the Chancellor of boasting to the 1922 Committee about the comfortable financial position of himself and his Tory MP colleagues – stating “A Conservative prime minister once told Britain ‘you’ve never had it so good’, now Tory MPs tell each other ‘we’ve never had it so good.’”
May gained some ground when Corbyn switched questioning to student debt. Here she was able to counter using Labour’s confused election commitment on cancelling student debt. However, it is increasingly clear that until the Tories develop policies for young people Corbyn will continue to have the upper hand here.
Despite being armed to the teeth with statistics – the PM with new unemployment data and Corbyn using inflation rates and pay figures – neither managed to bring them to life in a compelling argument; a disappointing performance all round.
Both sides put on a rowdy performance, with Speaker John Bercow periodically intervening; at one point even questioning the breakfast choices of Dawn Butler, sat to Corbyn’s right, who was particularly vocal throughout.
May used Michael Fabricant’s question on Birmingham’s Commonwealth Games bid to crack wise, raising the Litchfield MP’s upcoming appearance on Channel 4 show Celebrity First Dates, asking: “Mr Speaker, what I’m not sure about is whether my honourable friend is the celebrity or the first date.”