The Santorum conundrum

The former senator for Pennsylvania and wannabe Republican nominee, Rick Santorum, has a two-fold im

Have you heard of Rick Santorum? Not many people have, according to recent polls, despite the fact that he is running for President. The former senator for Pennsylvania has extremely low name recognition among potential Republican voters. Unlike the eponymous Sarah Palin and the current favourite for the Republican nomination, Mitt Romney, not many recognise Santorum. That is the first problem.

The second problem occurs when a voter goes, "Hey, I wonder who this Santorum fella is..." and pops the former senator's name into Google. The first result - above Santorum's official presidential bid website - is a definition of a neologism called "santorum".

Santorum 1. The frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex. 2. Senator Rick Santorum.

Spreadingsantorum.com, the website that contains this definition and nothing else, was set up in 2003, after the columnist and gay rights activist Dan Savage decided to get his own back on Santorum after the senator made some very distateful comments about gay people. Having negative views of gay people is not necessairly a vote-loser in the Republican primaries - dominated as they are by the religious right - but having your name associated with that probably isn't an election-winning gambit.

Thus Santorum is in a pickle. Not many people know who he is, and when they try and find out, they are faced with a description that Santorum would rather voters didn't associate him with. Will it scupper his chances of being President in 2012? Almost certainly not - the comments that inspired the website, mixed with the fact he got spanked by an 18-point margin when he attempted to defend his senate seat in 2006 are far more damaging. It is only a prank, but it's another hole in an already sinking ship.

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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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