A solemn and serious session for the first PMQs of the new parliament, with the disaster at Grenfell Tower at the top of the agenda. Peter Turay watches PMQs so you don’t have to.
Issue of the Week
The questions from the frontbenches focused almost wholly on Grenfell Tower, with the PM revealing that all of the 120 tower blocks currently under investigation had failed their fire safety tests. Following a question regarding the legality of the cladding on the tower blocks, the PM noted that the material was in fact “non-compliant” and called for “calm determination” rather than finger pointing to get to the bottom of the issue.
Despite her calls, the calm didn’t last long as Corbyn attacked the PM and her government for what he described as the “disastrous effect of austerity” and “the terrible consequences of deregulation” – opposite line that caused uproar on the opposite benches. He continued on the offensive, criticising the 40% cut in local authority budgets and calling for an end to the public sector pay cap – which the government has now signalled it could concede on, despite pledging to maintain the cap in their campaign manifesto. The PM fought back, highlighting that some of the changes in regulation occurred under the Blair government and the previous coalition government and thereby marking a return to the more combative style of PMQs”.
The Prime Minister also faced questions from a reduced, but ever fervent, group of SNP members who condemned the Government’s confidence and supply agreement with the DUP. Newly appointed SNP Leader at Westminster, Ian Blackford, pressed the issue effectively, demanding to know whether the Scottish Secretary had lobbied the PM about whether Scotland would receive similar funds as Northern Ireland following the deal.
The session was more of a false start in comparison to the bouts we were becoming accustomed to prior to the election, with both the PM and the Leader of the Opposition offering detailed questions and answers rather than scoring political points off one another (for the most part anyway). A much clearer indication of the real winner of the week seems to have come in the form of the government’s position on the public sector pay cap, which is now expected to change. The concession, especially this early in the parliamentary term, highlights the trepidation facing the Conservative minority government with votes on contentious issues.
The Tories as usual were the loudest across the benches, with James Cleverly in particular being pulled up for heckling the new SNP Westminster Leader, Ian Blackford, a little too loudly for the Speaker’s liking.
The newly elected Conservative MP for Mansfield, Ben Bradley, successfully took the chance to use his first question in the House to attack Corbyn’s ambiguous position on Brexit. He noted that while campaigning up in the North, in seats like his own, Corbyn had painted himself as someone who would accept the result of the referendum, and cap immigration, while doing the opposite in Remain leaning seats. We should expect to see more of this in the coming weeks, as scrutiny on Labour’s vague and sometimes contradicting Brexit strategy ramps up.
Jo Stevens, the Labour MP for Cardiff Central, used her question calling for the end of Fixed End Betting Terminals to make fun of the PM’s now calamitous decision to call the snap general election, jibing that given the PMs recent experience of reckless gambling, she should support her calls to end the practice.