The Government announcing the U-turn on National Insurance payments 15 minutes before PMQs was no mistake. This tactic was used to give the Opposition minimal time to prepare a valid response.
This U-turn is frankly embarrassing for Hammond and May, given that many Tory MPs didn’t seem to be aware that it was happening before the announcement (Ed Vaizey tweeted: “Blimey. I’ve been vigorously defending it”, while linking to the breaking announcement from Sky News. Another Tory MP was caught off guard on the Daily Politics show, in which he had to switch from supporting the rise to opposing it within the same half an hour slot).
But what’s perhaps most embarrassing about this whole charade is how easily it could have been exploited by Corbyn, and how dismally he failed to do that. In the end, it took a Tory MP at PMQs to hold the PM to account over the U-turn. Huw Merrimen started the debate by saying that he was happy that the Government had decided to “abide by the letter of our manifesto and also the spirit” (during his entire time in the chamber while this was happening, Philip Hammond was slumped dejectedly on his seat, looking like he hasn’t had a good kip since the Budget last Wednesday.)
In comparison, Corbyn put on a poor show. He may have only had minutes to prepare, but the way in which he rose to the challenge was downright confusing and badly articulated.
He forgot to actually ask a question on numerous occasions, and went straight from the U-turn embarrassment to schools – when he could have used at least four of his six questions to ask basic “when, why, how and where” questions on the issue. John McDonnell, the shadow Chancellor, was absolutely nowhere to be seen (rumour has it that he sneaked in halfway through, but he was nowhere near the front bench – strange considering they had assembled to criticise the incumbent Chancellor).
Yes, the schools issue is important, but Corbyn had a real chance to regain some power and maintain the upper hand in this debate – and Theresa May eviscerated him as per usual with empty rhetoric, gesticulations and her strict headmistress voice. Philip Hammond even looked a bit smug by the end of the affair, which is, quite frankly, ridiculous, considering his first Budget has just been crumpled up and thrown in the bin.
We wonder why this Government thinks it can get away with going against manifesto promises, change PIP criteria, pushing ahead with a hard Brexit which nobody knew they were voting for and so on. Simply put, there is no credible opposition to stand up and fight against what they are doing. Today’s PMQs was absolute proof of this.
Yvette Cooper later interjected into the argument, pointing out previous Conservative Budget U-turns, and shouting: “Is that why they want to abolish Spring Budgets, because they just keep ripping them up?” This was a strong question and a direct, attention-grabbing tactic – and it should have come from the Labour leader.
Corbyn is moral man, and I do not doubt that he truly cares about this issue. But his repeated failure at PMQs simply lets the Government get away with blue murder. A strong orator like Angela Rayner would have been better suited to tackle the hypocrisy being wrought by the Conservatives. Rayner, like Cooper, takes no prisoners – that kind of attitude was needed today.
Corbyn has the substance, but Theresa May has the political skill – she excels on an “all flash, no cash” platform of empty rhetoric and biting anecdotes. Corbyn may need to start taking some tips from her – otherwise he’ll find his party being U-turned out of national relevance.Reuse content