After forming a more united shadow cabinet last week, Jeremy Corbyn approached today’s Prime Minister’s Questions with a renewed vigour. Following on from the shocking news that Conservatives had voted through a bill that means landlords don’t have to ensure that their properties are fit for human occupancy, Cameron stayed on the back foot with a Labour focus on housing. For many, it was the final proof that Cameron, Osborne and their Tory cronies are happy to bolster the interests of wealthy fat cats at the expense of ordinary people.
The Tory party - the apparent party of aspiration - cannot even promise that those on the new ‘living wage’ will be able to afford discounted starter homes (when asked, Cameron merely said he “hoped” they would). Interestingly, this comes at a time when the Prime Minister himself says that he worries about his own children not being able to get on the housing ladder. The aim may have been to make him seem relatable, but it ended up looking desperate and condescending – a look Cameron is increasingly becoming accustomed to.
Making jokes about a reshuffle that only interested the political bubble, the Prime Minister brushed off the fact that those in council estates have been stripped of a secure long-term tenancy and now face eviction assessments every two years. Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn spoke of constituents facing the effects of Tory policies, something that continues to baffle both the Prime Minister and his backbenchers. Consistently, the replies were sculpted and polished titbits of rhetoric, when the questions were genuine queries about the situation on the ground.
Now, it turns out, ‘sink estates’ is the latest Tory buzzword. But the people who live within the communities Cameron is trying to deconstruct aren’t about to be talked out of their homes with a tagline. Laughably, Cameron accused Corbyn of peddling a “small-c conservative” mindset by apparently telling people to put up with what they’ve been given. As anyone knows, however, social mobility is a lot more complicated than that – and depends hugely on a supportive community network.
What’s perhaps so strange about this latest tactic is that the Labour party conference, back when Corbyn had only just been elected as leader, sent the Tory machine into a spin as it rushed to respond to Corbyn’s line: “You don’t have to take what you’re given.” That was an example of the new politics which inspired thousands of Labour members to vote Corbyn in. The fact that Cameron seems to be attempting to co-opt it now shows how anxious he’s become to discredit a radical new Labour.
Corbyn’s words at that conference remain poignant and true in the face of this Tory assault. Labour is the party that says “You may be born poor but you don’t have to stay poor”, while the Tories push the impoverished further into depression. Labour is the party that says “You don’t have to set limits on your talent and your ambition - or those of your children” while the Tories say that if you fail to take the first job that comes to you, we will strip you of your benefits and endanger your children’s education.
The Labour party stands tall in saying, "You don’t have to be grateful to survive in a world made by others”. And as the Tories push more and more people into poverty, it’s becoming harder to accept that it’s a necessary evil.
Today’s PMQs were another marker on the map towards forming an opposition that offers a genuine alternative tackling the dangerous rhetoric of a Conservative party. Lest we forget, this is a party hell-bent on the destruction of the welfare state - and concentrated on preserving wealth and power for the richest and most powerful in our society. But you don’t need to listen to their words to know that; you simply have to judge their actions.
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