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22 March 2017

PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn exploits Theresa May’s school troubles

The PM is facing resistance both to funding cuts and grammar schools. 

By George Eaton

After being floored by the Conservative’s tax U-turn last week, Jeremy Corbyn was on stronger ground at today’s PMQs. Education is an issue that unites Labour and divides the Tories and Corbyn spied a political opportunity. He warned that the new national funding formula left 1,000 schools facing cuts of 7 per cent in seeming breach of the Conservative manifesto (the gift that keeps giving for the opposition). “No wonder even the editor of the London Evening Standard is up in arms about this,” Corbyn smartly quipped of George Osborne. May gave no ground in response but emphasised that “the National Funding Formula is a consultation and obviously there’ll be a number of views”.

It was the reliably combustible subject of grammar schools, however, that provided the political heat. After Corbyn denounced May’s “vanity project” (the Budget gifted £320m to grammars), the Prime Minister delivered an unusually personal retort. May denounced Diane Abbott and Shami Chakrabarti for sending their children to private schools and Corbyn for sending “his child to a grammar school” (and for attending one himself). As the PM spoke, Corbyn vigorously shoke his head. Did May not know that he divorced his wife over the issue or did she not care? 

“Typical Labour – take the advantage and pull up the ladder behind them,” she concluded. Corbyn replied with his now familiar call for “a staircase for all, not a ladder for a few” (a policy which has not yet been costed). He again exploited Tory divisions on grammars, citing the opposition of former education secretary Nicky Morgan. “The prime minister and her government are betraying a generation of young people,” Corbyn warned. “Children will have fewer teachers, larger classes and all the PM can do is focus on her grammar school vanity project that can only ever benefit a few children.”

May, who regularly takes advantage of having the last word, ended with a full-frontal attack on Labour. “Earlier this week he recorded a video calling for unity, he called for Labour to think of our people first, think of our movement first, think of the party first – that’s the difference between him and me – Labour put the party first, we put the country first.” Today, May maintained that her schools reforms are best for the country. But in the face of significant opposition, and with a working majority of just 17, she may yet have to put her party first. 

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