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.
— James Melville (@JamesMelville) July 20, 2016
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 @AdamBarnett13Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.