Fine young criminals

And a strong contender for Quote of the Week

Now, let's get one thing straight. I do not advocate, or defend, criminality. But every now and then, you read about a crime that really makes your heart sing a bit. This time, we're in Michigan, where a 53-year-old banker, Patricia Keezer, has been sentenced for embezzling funds at her bank and giving them away to needy customers to help them with car repairs, mortgage payments and taxes.

What a hero! Sort of. Check out the quote:

"I would take other people's problems and make them my problems," Keezer told the judge. "I do have a problem with giving things away."

It melts you a little bit, no? I know it's wrong, I know it's illegal, I know the money wasn't hers to give. But there's a little part of me that's really glad she did it, although not for her sake, given that she now faces a year and a day in prison. (Why the day, judge, why the day?)

It sounds like even the judge was pretty much won over:

"You are like a modern-day Robin Hood," Battani [the judge] said of the folklore hero who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. "Those Robin Hood days are long over."

Well, maybe they are, Battani, but once in a while I reckon we should just stand up and say, "You know what, you modern-day Robin Hoods? We salute you. Yes we do."

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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