PMQs: Theresa May defends austerity while preaching social justice

Labour must up its game to combat May's clever triangulation


‘He talks about austerity – I call it living within our means.

He talks about austerity – but actually it’s about not saddling our children and grandchildren with significant debts to come.

And it’s not about austerity, it’s about ensuring we have an economy that works for everyone.’

So said Theresa May at her first Prime Minister’s Questions today across the dispatch box from Jeremy Corbyn.

At this point, the embattled Labour leader could have pointed out the gap between May’s rhetoric about social justice with her Thatcherite defence of austerity economics.

He could have made an ideological case for a Left alternative, so everyone watching was perfectly clear what Labour was offering.

Instead he replied:

‘Mr Speaker, jobless claims have risen for the fourth month in a row; welfare claims have risen as well.

Austerity actually means people being poorer, services being cut, and local facilities being closed.’

Corbyn then began a risky question about ‘insecure workers, when you have a job but you don’t always have job security’.

His question – made as Corbyn faces a leadership challenge, after Labour MPs’ 80 per cent vote of no confidence – was ably exploited by guffawing Tories and their ready Prime Minister.

The spectacle was one of Conservative triumph and a sheepish opposition, with tumbleweed blowing past the Labour benches.

Even the usually razor-sharp Angus Robertson, SNP leader in Westminster, asked blunt questions about May’s visit today with German chancellor Angela Merkel, and its impact on Scotland’s bid to remain in the EU.

I have argued the Left needs a different approach to combat May’s triangulation.

‘Get the Tories’ is not a strategy with many victories to its credit, and is less than useless against a Prime Minister talking about helping the working class – with policies trimmed from the Labour playbook.

Rather than just pointing out May’s hypocrisy – as if this will magically translate into Labour victories – the Left could welcome government measures sold on the promise of tackling inequality – while fighting to replace their shortcomings with policy that lives up to the progressive billing.

That is of course assuming we are interested in improving people’s lives, rather than solely on which party is in power, or which poses they choose to strike in opposition.

Adam Barnett is staff writer for Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBarnett13 

See: Why not call ‘Left-wing’ Theresa May’s bluff?

7 Responses to “PMQs: Theresa May defends austerity while preaching social justice”

  1. Jacko

    Compare how well Tony Blair used to present in the House of Commons as leader of the opposition with Jeremy Corbyn. Blair was a first class public speaker and debater. A man with charisma, an agenda, a compelling vision that was infectious and swept people along with his time-for-a-change message. Now look at Corbyn. He reads far too much from notes, his delivery lacks conviction, his voice lacks projection, humour, soundbites that the media can use, any compelling narrative, and he doesn’t even wear a decent suit. This is how far the Labour party has fallen. It’s utterly shameful.

  2. Steve Mizzy

    PMQ’s are a pantomime but they do matter.
    My feeling is that Corbyn regards them as shallow and insignificant, so wont do much in the way of preparation and practice in readiness for them. This is a mistake.
    They aren’t real politics of course but its important for the party and your MP’s that you at least appear confident and competent. It’s your once a week chance to reach the public so getting a good performance is important. You may not be able to nail the PM but you’ve got to make them uncomfortable and ask difficult questions – and follow them up. Corbyn’s tactic of asking 6 different question is just dumb allowing the PM to evade without the threat of a serious rejoinder.
    Yesterday his performance plumbed new depths, with the question about insecurity at work being a gift to May. It was truly jaw droppingly incompetent.

  3. Michael Alabaster

    She calls it “living within our means”: buying replacements for our “Trident” submarines, paying billions to the bosses of our failed banks, new nuclear power stations, privatising the N.H.S., High Speed Trains for millionaires.
    I call it Tory claptrap.

  4. Michael Alabaster

    How much moderation is required?

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