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28 October 2015

PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn scores a win over tax credit cuts

The Labour leader told the PM: "This is not a constitutional crisis, this is a crisis for three million families in this country." 

By George Eaton

Jeremy Corbyn had David Cameron on the ropes over tax credit cuts at last week’s PMQs, but allowed him to wriggle free when he switched subjects to the steel crisis. Today, the Labour leader avoided this error, devoting all six of his questions to one issue for the first time.

Following the government’s defeat in the House of Lords, Corbyn challenged Cameron to guarantee that nobody would be worse off next April as a result of the tax credit cuts. Rather than confirming or denying that this was the case, the PM simply told him: “We will set out our new proposals in the Autumn Statement [on 25 November] and he’ll be able to study them then”. Unappeased, Corbyn went into Paxman-mode, repeating his question three times. Cameron gave no ground but the Labour leader, with greater succinctness than before (the Speaker having complained about the length of his questions), successfully exposed his discomfort. The PM had a decent quip about “a new alliance” of “the unelected and the unelectable” but it was Corbyn’s response that may lead the news tonight: “This is not a constitutional crisis, this is a crisis for three million families in this country.” 

Cameron moved onto stronger ground when he charged opponents of tax credit cuts with lacking a plan to eliminate the deficit. “When is he going to stop his deficit denial, get off the fence and tell us what he’s going to do?” he cried, deploying the argument that proved so effective against Ed Miliband. Had the Tories stuck to this line of attack, rather than suggesting that the “national living wage” would ensure no one was worse off, the political damage would have been reduced. But Corbyn’s final question, from tax credit claimant “Karen” (“Why is the Prime minister punishing working families? The tax credit cuts will push me and my family into hardship.”), served to remind Cameron why the unease among his own party is so great.

To cries of “who?” from Tory MPs, Tim Farron later asked his first question since becoming Liberal Democrat leader. After visiting Lesbos yesterday, Farron challenged Cameron to take 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees. The PM rather cruelly responded by quipping that “It’s good to see such a high turnout of his MPs” (the Lib Dems now having just eight), an unwise line given the graveness of the subject. Cameron went on to give his standard defence: that the government has promised to take 20,000 refugees and that it was “better to take them from the camps instead of taking them from inside Europe”. 

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