Some post-Question Time clarifications

I seem to be the Marmite man. People love me or hate me!

Thanks to all those people who posted messages of support, praise or congratulations either on this blog, the Question Time blog or on Twitter after I made my debut on that show last night. But as one tweeter pointed out, "@ns_mehdihasan is like Marmite." Indeed. I seem to have upset, annoyed and angered lots of people on the right, as well countless Lib Dem apologists. What can I say? That's life. Don't take it so personally. Let's agree to disagree.

QT is a great show and I had great fun appearing on it (even though Iain Dale thinks I didn't smile enough. Sorry, Iain!). But it's not a format that lends itself to forensic examination of policies or arguments, and despite the fact that I speak at ten words per second (thanks, David Prescott!), even I couldn't challenge or clarify some of Simon Hughes's claims.

For the record, I like and admire Simon Hughes and felt sorry that he had to defend the indefensible. Where is David Laws when you need him, eh? Oh, and while I'm at it, Michael Heseltine is my second-favourite Tory -- after Ken Clarke, who's my favourite (I know, I know, but I just can't help it!). It's a shame I've had to have a go at both of them in recent BBC panel debates. Where's Michael Gove when you need him?

So here are some post-QT clarifications:

1) Simon Hughes kept pointing to the Tory/Lib Dem proposal to raise the income-tax threshold to £10,000. He seems to believe this is a perfectly progressive policy. But he knows, as the IFS and others have pointed out, that such a policy will cost £17bn, of which only £1bn will go to the lowest earners. He also knows that the poorest people in Britain will not get a penny from this policy because they tend to be out of work and not paying any income tax to begin with. Oh, and as the Fabians' Tim Horton has pointed out, this policy is no longer funded by redistributive measures such as the mansion tax and the scrapping of higher-rate pension relief.

2) Hughes could not address the main issue: why did the Lib Dems agree to Tory cuts in spending this year, despite campaigning against such cuts? Aren't such cuts, to quote Vince Cable, a "smokescreen" for public-sector job losses? This is an unforgivable concession, in my view.

3) Talking of concessions, Hughes claimed that Labour had offered nothing and that the Tories had moved the most. I'm confused. In the end, the Tories adopted the Labour manifesto pledge to legislate for a referendum on AV (not PR!) but promised to campaign against AV in the actual referendum itself. How is that a better deal than a Labour referendum on AV which the Labour Party actually then backs? He also got lots of applause on the topic of civil liberties -- but omitted to mention that Labour negotiators had offered to drop ID cards in return for a deal with the Lib Dems.

4) I'm not an opponent of coalitions or coalition politics. I had hoped for a hung parliament because (i) I didn't believe Labour had earned the right to govern on its own, after 13 years of ups and downs in office, and (ii) I naively assumed that such a scenario might bring about a progressive realignment on the centre left and hasten electoral reform. I was wrong. And I'm angry that a coalition of Labour tribalists and Lib Dem power-seekers betrayed the progressive, anti-Tory majority in this country. But let me be clear: unlike Melanie Phillips, I have no problem with coalitions and think coalition government, in theory, can actually have a positive impact on the nation and on the economy. I just think this coalition is a coalition of convenience, unprincipled and unstable. But I hope, for the sake of the country, that I'm wrong and the optimists and apologists are right.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn exploits Theresa May's school troubles

The PM is facing resistance both to funding cuts and grammar schools. 

After being floored by the Conservative's tax U-turn last week, Jeremy Corbyn was on stronger ground at today's PMQs. Education is an issue that unites Labour and divides the Tories and Corbyn spied a political opportunity. He warned that the new national funding formula left 1,000 schools facing cuts of 7 per cent in seeming breach of the Conservative manifesto (the gift that keeps giving for the opposition). "No wonder even the editor of the London Evening Standard is up in arms about this," Corbyn smartly quipped of George Osborne. May gave no ground in response but emphasised that "the National Funding Formula is a consultation and obviously there'll be a number of views".

It was the reliably combustible subject of grammar schools, however, that provided the political heat. After Corbyn denounced May's "vanity project" (the Budget gifted £320m to grammars), the Prime Minister delivered an unusually personal retort. May denounced Diane Abbott and Shami Chakrabarti for sending their children to private schools and Corbyn for sending "his child to a grammar school" (and for attending one himself). As the PM spoke, Corbyn vigorously shoke his head. Did May not know that he divorced his wife over the issue or did she not care? 

"Typical Labour - take the advantage and pull up the ladder behind them," she concluded. Corbyn replied with his now familiar call for "a staircase for all, not a ladder for a few" (a policy which has not yet been costed). He again exploited Tory divisions on grammars, citing the opposition of former education secretary Nicky Morgan. "The prime minister and her government are betraying a generation of young people," Corbyn warned. "Children will have fewer teachers, larger classes and all the PM can do is focus on her grammar school vanity project that can only ever benefit a few children."

May, who regularly takes advantage of having the last word, ended with a full-frontal attack on Labour. "Earlier this week he recorded a video calling for unity, he called for Labour to think of our people first, think of our movement first, think of the party first - that's the difference between him and me - Labour put the party first, we put the country first." Today, May maintained that her schools reforms are best for the country. But in the face of significant opposition, and with a working majority of just 17, she may yet have to put her party first. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.