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21 October 2015

PMQs review: David Cameron is starting to get rattled over tax credit cuts

With an increasing number of Tories opposed, the PM was unsettled by Jeremy Corbyn's questioning. 

By George Eaton

For the first time since Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader, David Cameron appeared under significant pressure at today’s PMQs. Aware that an increasing number on his own side oppose the planned tax credit cuts, Cameron struggled with Corbyn’s questions on the subject. 

Rather than opening with another email, the Labour leader wisely quoted Tory MP Heidi Allen’s maiden speech condemning the policy and asked “where was she wrong?” Cameron replied by offering the standard defence that the government was introducing a “living wage” and raising the personal allowance (the problem being that 3.2 million families will still be worse off). He then unwisely added that he was “delighted” that the Commons voted in favour of tax credit cuts last night, a phrase that Labour has quickly pounced on.

Corbyn then highlighted how the self-employed would be hurt by the measure, appealing to the Tories’ entrepreneurialism: “Does he not see the value of giving support to people trying to improve their lives?” he asked. When Cameron again refused to give ground, he reminded him of his broken pre-election promise: “This is all very strange because the prime minister seems to have changed his mind.” But with Cameron squirming, Corbyn moved on to the steel crisis, allowing the PM some vital breathing space. To put him under greater pressure, the Labour leader needs to focus his six questions on one subject. 

Corbyn derided the government for being “dragged kicking and screaming to this House three times in the last eight days” over the steel crisis and for not having a “industrial strategy”. But this was more comfortable territory for Cameron than tax credits. He did, however, revert to Flashman mode when he unwisely raged at Labour’s “self-righteous lectures” in response to MPs’ questions on the steel crisis. In contrast to the ill-tempered Cameron, Corbyn is honing his controlled, teacher-esque demeanour. “Thank you” he sternly replied when Conservative MPs ceased their baying. 

The most notable backbench question came from Jacob Rees-Mogg, who asked Cameron about the possibility of the House of Lords blocking the tax credit cuts. “This House has now decided twice in favour of this measure … I think the House of Lords should listen to that very carefully and take note that it’s for this House to make financial decisions,” Cameron relied. But in their favour, peers will note that the Conservative manifesto contained no mention of the tax credit cuts. The document that the Tories appeal to when seeking to pass legislation is working against them in this instance.  

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