Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
19 July 2017updated 01 Aug 2021 9:01am

PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn sends the Tories off for a difficult summer

As Theresa May fails yet again to deflect Labour’s attacks on inequality, there will be a lot of soul-searching over recess.

By Anoosh Chakelian

Theresa May says she doesn’t regret calling the snap election that lost her majority. But there are two regrets she probably does have. The first would be her speech about helping the “just about managing” on the steps of No 10 when she took office. The second would be forgetting about austerity as a Tory priority.

Both of these decisions have come back to bite her – and can be used ruthlessly by Labour. Nowhere was this clearer than the last PMQs before Parliament breaks up for recess.

For what seemed like the tenth week in a row, Jeremy Corbyn was able to hit the Prime Minister where it hurts on the public sector pay freeze, arguing that people are being squeezed by low wages and rising inflation. He said she needs a “check on reality”, and brought up the Chancellor Philip Hammond’s alleged comment about public sector workers being “overpaid” – an unconfirmed quote, and the result of a leak from cabinet members arguing to lift the cap.

Corbyn’s attack on this worked two ways: exposing the cabinet’s divides on the subject, and also – more importantly – cementing the public’s preconceptions about the Conservative Party.

The Tories are always trying to shed their image as the party of the rich, out-of-touch with “ordinary” people. But being called out on in-work poverty and low-pay only perpetuates this image – and May’s promise to help struggling working-class families makes it even worse. It’s no longer just a Tory stereotype; it’s a betrayal.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

This pay freeze is symbolic of the debate about austerity that resurfaced after Corbyn’s election performance. His success was taken by many Tories as a vote against austerity. That’s why there are both cabinet members and backbenchers who think it’s time for a different approach. Corbyn has emboldened them, but May has done more to do so. By dropping George Osborne’s deficit targets, and borrowing to invest in infrastructure, she allowed austerity to drop off the agenda. This is making it all the more difficult for her and her Chancellor to now defend.

So the Conservatives won’t only be thinking about their next leader over the summer. They’ll be searching for the soul of their party too.

Content from our partners
What you need to know about private markets
Work isn't working: how to boost the nation's health and happiness
The dementia crisis: a call for action