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27 April 2016

PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn’s academies sequel disappoints

After the Labour leader's victory last week, David Cameron cruised through today's session. 

By George Eaton

Sequels are typically worse than their originals. So it was with Jeremy Corbyn at PMQs today. After last week enjoying his best performance to date, he returned to his favoured subject: forced academisation. But Cameron was left unruffled. Indeed, by the end, he was cruising. “I’m on my fifth Labour leader and if he carries on like this I’ll soon be on my sixth” was the PM’s parting shot.

Cameron remains in uncomfortable territory on academisation. The Tory benches were muted in support of a policy that many want abandoned. Cameron announced that there would be legislation in the Queen’s Speech ensuring “academies for all” but he refused to rule out concessions. Schools, he said, would be free to work with local authorities. Corbyn, however, struggled to exploit this ambiguity. The intervening week ensured that Cameron arrived better armed. He cited Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools, and the OECD in defence of academies (though neither has endorsed compulsion). “I like repeats on television and I’m very happy to have them in the House as well,” Cameron satisfiedly remarked. 

A graver problem for Corbyn was the continuing presence of Naz Shah in the Labour Party. After the Bradford West MP was found to have declared in 2014 that Israel should be “relocated” to the US, Corbyn announced shortly before PMQs that she would nevertheless avoid suspension. “These are historic social media posts made before she was a Member of Parliament,” he said. Well, nine months before. Cameron, unsurprisingly, rebuked Corbyn, declaring: “Perhaps if he could deal with the anti-Semites in their own party, we’d be prepared to listen to them a bit more.” Awkwardly for Corbyn, shadow energy secretary Lisa Nandy had appeared live on TV ordering him to do just that.

Cameron later returned to the subject, calling for Shah to be expelled from the party. He recalled that John McDonnell had defined Labour’s stance on anti-Semites as “out, out, out”. “Frankly it’ll be too many in the hours in the day before that happens to the member in question,” he added. Unlike Corbyn, most of the shadow cabinet will have agreed with every word. 

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