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13 January 2016

PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn’s housing facts aren’t enough to give him victory

The Labour leader lacked an effective riposte to David Cameron's "small-c conservative" attack. 

By George Eaton

As often at recent sessions, Jeremy Corbyn arrived at today’s PMQs armed with salient facts on his subject of choice: the housing crisis. He also had a good opening line, qupping that the £140m pledged by David Cameron to transform “sink estates” wouldn’t even “pay for the bulldozers”. He went on to ask whether tenants would be guaranteed new homes on rebuilt estates and noted that families on the National Living Wage would be unable to afford the government’s “starter homes” in 98 per cent of areas. “Isn’t the Prime Minister branding more homes as affordable, which is not a solution to the housing crisis?” he asked. “Will he confirm home ownership has actually fallen since he became PM?”

But while the facts were on Corbyn’s side, it was Cameron who had the advantage in the chamber, deriding the Labour leader as a “small-c conservative saying to people ‘stay stuck in your sink estates’ – have nothing better than what Labour gave you after the war”. It was a disingenuous but undeniably potent attack, which Corbyn had no effective riposte to. It is a line that Cameron will undoubtedly return to as he seeks to woo “aspirational” Labour voters. The PM’s final rhetorical blast cheered his MPs and left many on the Labour side looking profoundly uncomfortable: “We’ve got a Labour Party who’ve got a housing policy which doesn’t believe in home ownership, just as they’ve got a defence policy that doesn’t believe in defence, a Labour Party that doesn’t believe in work and a leader that doesn’t believe in Britain.”

Earlier in the session, Cameron seized on a planted question to attack Corbyn’s opposition to Trident renewal (“the party opposite has some very serious questions to answer”), with shadow education secretary Lucy Powell among those who nodded in agreement at his defence of “an independent nuclear deterrent”. Surprisingly, there was no mention of the junior doctors’ strike from Labour, despite the comfortable public support for the action. 

The other notable moment came when Dan Jarvis rose to ask a question on excess winter deaths. The silence with which he was heard and the respect with which Cameron replied (“they are a standing rebuke to all governments”) shows just how seriously he is taken as a potential future Labour leader. 

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