Hal Stevenson watches PMQs so you don’t have to.
Issue of the week
Whilst on the surface it appeared that this week’s PMQs had returned to the well-trodden territory of universal credit and the living wage, a deeper seam of questioning ran through today’s opening exchanges; Conservative division. Though such issues have been pasted pillar to post by the press in recent months, this was the first PMQs in which they were fully weaponised by Corbyn.
In doing so, the Labour leader exposed wounds of old and new, citing the recent rebellion by Dr Sarah Wollaston in Parliament and the critical comments of Angela Burns, a Welsh Assembly member, as well as the division between Philip Hammond’s Treasury and DCLG and DExEU respectively. For good measure he reminisced on Ian Duncan Smith’s explosive resignation in spring of last year, which saw the former Minister for Work and Pensions resign over his Government’s cuts to personal independence payments. As for his own side, Corbyn even managed to splutter support for some of his predecessor, Tony Blair’s, reforms. A surprising move.
In the face of this bombardment May showed noticeably more grit than she has in previous exchanges. Nonetheless, try as she might with a last ditch swerve towards the economy, she never made it onto the front foot. She might have been better advised to follow the combative approach of her opposite number and direct discussion towards the status of the not-so honourable member for Sheffield Hallam, who as it happens, was not in attendance. Instead her tired rebuttal that four out of five users were “satisfied” with the universal credit rang hollow, once again allowing Corbyn to emerge victorious.
Whilst by no means a classic dispatch box exchange, the leaders’ improved performance renewed voices on both sides of the chamber. Things came to a crescendo when Corbyn denounced the Government as “weak, incompetent and divided” and “unable to take the essential decisions necessary for the good of the people of this country.” Though the rousing reaction to the broadside was sabotaged by a premature intervention from Bercow, it was a rhetorical flourish that could be enjoyed a-politically.
John Bercow’s historic claims that he wants to reform the parliamentary process. This week, PMQ’s once again saw Bercow seek the limelight with excessive and untimely interventions abounding.