They’re off! Yesterday’s PMQs signalled the start of the election. Here’s what was said and what we can expect now.
On your marks, get set, GO! Yesterday’s PMQs very much signalled the start of the election – slogan by slogan. We should all get used to accusations of “seven years of Tory broken promises’ versus “strong economy, strong defence and strong, stable leadership”. Labour candidates should also brace for the line; ‘if you don’t trust him to be leader of your party, why should we trust him to be Prime Minister?’ For some, this is going to be a long eight weeks. Corbyn welcomed the election – like the Liberal Democrats – placing him in the position of denying the premise but supporting the conclusion. They can do little else. Predictably, there were resounding cheers from the Conservative benches. Whatever the Prime Minister may say, it is his performance which has given her the opportunity to go to the country. Labour have taken the view that, despite their poor polling on economic trust, attacking on the economy is a valid tactic. Both Corbyn at the dispatch box and McDonnell in the BBC studios focused on this week’s statistics on wage growth. Cue the rebuttal: £500bn of unfunded promises.
May was consistent in her line that she was “proud of her government’s achievements”. To be fair Corbyn found the right response; “if she was so proud of her record, why wouldn’t she debate it”. But moved on too quickly to let it land.
Angus Robertson demonstrated how this is done; “can the Prime Minister tell the people why she’s running scared of a televised debate with Nicola Sturgeon?”. It is fair to say that the Prime Minister isn’t at her best in this format. Whilst the Whips can plant questions effectively in the chamber, their reach doesn’t make it to Millbank. She stands to gain nothing from a televised debate and any competent advisor will have told her so. People know what they think of Corbyn. He could only confirm or confound their views. For the Prime Minister, the only way is down.
Plenty have suggested that the Prime Minister has signalled the start of the next Labour leadership contest. We should not be so sure, Corbyn knows he won’t win and he and the Left will do all they can to cling on. But should it come to that, Yvette Cooper furthered her pitch today. Off the back of her PLP performance last night she pithily and succinctly delivered; ” The Prime Minister yesterday said she was calling a general election because parliament was blocking Brexit, but 3/4‘s of MPs and 2/3’s of the Lords voted for Article 50, so that’s not true is it? A month ago she told her official spokesman to rule out an early general election and that wasn’t true either. She wants us to believe she is a woman of her word; isn’t the truth that we can’t believe a single word she says?”.
So, what happens after June 8th? The Conservatives will win, we’ll have a new government, new agenda, new select committees and maybe a new leader of the opposition. In the meantime, we have a hiatus in public affairs activity. Local candidate engagement is still a very viable route as candidates look to visit businesses in their potential constituencies. For larger businesses, I’m sure the party leaders will be looking for venues for speeches. Now is the time to renew your cases for not just a new government, but a new agenda with a post-Brexit focus. The indications are already clear that Cameron’s legacy is about to be swept aside. The Prime Minister has made the statement that the country is uniting. Whatever your view on that, it is clear that making a success of Brexit will still be priority one.