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13 February 2019

Five things we learned from PMQs today

The Tories are doing damage limitation— up to a point.

By Eleni Courea

The Tories are doing damage limitation…

Theresa May is very keen to distance her party from Christopher Chope, who’s gained notoriety for blocking private members’ bills that seek to protect women and otherwise seem to command widespread support. This Friday, he was chastised by several of his colleagues for derailing a PMB by Zac Goldsmith to protect children from female genital mutilation. The first question today came from Helen Whately who asked the PM to make time for the bill to be debated, and May agreed to.

It’s a PR exercise that demonstrates how keen May is to modernise the party’s image and limit the damage caused by the outcry over Chope. This week the Tories put out videos on social media where they took the credit for introducing a ban on upskirting, after a PMB proposed by Wera Hobhouse, a Lib Dem, was derailed by Chope in June.

… but are only willing to go so far

When George Freeman asked a question about stripping people of their knighthoods if they bring disrepute to the honours system, he named Sir Philip Green, but may just as well have pointed to Sir Christopher Chope. May gave him an awkward response about how there’s an independent procedure for that.

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The Tories still think Corbyn’s biggest weakness is Brexit

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Corbyn asked a series of carefully researched and tightly worded questions on Chris Grayling’s failures, an issue that his entire party—and many on the opposite benches—can easily unite behind. May defended the transport secretary and went back to her old attack lines about Corbyn’s indecisiveness over Brexit. She ended with a new accusation: “People used to say he is a conviction politician. Not any more.” Even after Corbyn set out a specific and deliverable form of Brexit that he would accept in a letter to her last week, the Tories know that people distrust Labour on delivering Brexit more than they do the Tories.

Olly Robbins is right about May’s strategy

It fell to Tory MP Henry Smith to ask about reports that Olly Robbins was overheard last night saying MPs would have to choose between May’s deal and prolonging Brexit. When he called on May to rule out extending Article 50, she didn’t, and repeated that the government hopes to leave with a deal in March.

Heidi Allen is a real thorn in the Tories’ side

Heidi Allen asked a question that would have been more suitable coming from the Labour benches on universal credit. She praised Amber Rudd for admitting that the UC rollout was linked to higher foodbank use—during which Rudd looked deeply uncomfortable—and called on her party to lift the benefits freeze. “The welfare net no longer holds people up, it is tangling around people’s feet and dragging them under the water,” she said. Many Tory MPs wonder why she’s even in the party. One says: “We’re tired of her getting up and saying that she’s the only one who cares on this side of the house. If you talk to her, she’s not even a small-c conservative.”