Philip Hammond caught out after claiming living standards are rising

The Defence Secretary is forced to admit: "I haven’t got a specific measure I can quote."

While David Cameron changed tack at PMQs today and admitted that living standards are falling (but that Labour was to blame), it seems that Philip Hammond didn't get the message. The Defence Secretary told The Daily Politics:

I think living standards are starting to rise again after what has been a very, very difficult period with a huge reduction in our national income. I think everybody in this country understands that if our national income contracts by 7.5 per cent that has an impact on living standards.

But when challenged by Andrew Neil to name "any measure" that showed this, he was forced to concede:

I haven’t got a specific measure I can quote. But what’s happening is we are seeing a recovery in the economy, we’re seeing people benefitting from the measures that we’ve taken to increase the tax free personal allowance, to freeze council tax, to freeze fuel duties, so that those pressures on living standards where the government does have some direct ability are being managed. And, as the economy starts to grow again, we will see living standards continuing to recover.

The exchange continued:

AN:  Oh, continuing to recover, so you say they’re recovering, so by what measure are you using to justify the claim that living standards are now rising.

PH: Well, as our national incomes rise again, living standards will rise.

From "living standards are starting to rise" to "living standards will rise" in just one minute.

Unfortunately for the Tories, even under George Osborne's preferred measure of Real Household Disposable Income, which includes the incomes of charities and universities (and as the IFS warned, "should certainly not be used in isolation to measure how they [living standards] are changing"), living standards are forecast to fall this year. And even once they start to rise, they still almost certainly be below their 2010 level at the time of the general election.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond speaks at the Conservative conference in Manchester earlier this year. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political 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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