Labour may be languishing in the polls but Prime Minister’s Questions has long been a more evenly-matched contest. At the final session of the year, Jeremy Corbyn secured a comfortable win with a series of punchy, tightly-scripted questions on social care. Theresa May initially struck a conciliatory tone by acknowledging “the pressures” on the system and promising further action (local authorities will tomorrow be permitted to raise council tax by up to 3 per cent a year, rather than 2 per cent).
Corbyn appeared unware of the leaked announcement but his attack lines were strong enough to unsettle May. How much, he asked her, was social care cut by in the last parliament? After May evaded the question, Corbyn supplied the answer: £4.6bn. For the Labour leader, who long ago abandoned “people’s questions”, the old tactics are the best ones.
Increasing council tax, Corbyn warned, was an inadequate solution. While Windsor and Maidenhead (the PM’s constituency) would raise significant revenue, areas such as Liverpool would garner far less. “Is she saying that older people, frail, elderly, vulnerable people are less valuable in our big cities than they are in wealthier parts of the country?” Corbyn asked. He called on May to cancel the planned corporation tax cut and put the money into social care. The PM insisted that the onus was on local authorities to improve their efficiency: “The difference between the worst-performing councils and the best is a twentyfold difference – that’s not about funding, that’s about delivery.”
But Corbyn rallied, declaring that “the crisis is made in Downing Street by this government” (another old classic). He finished: “Get a grip and fund it properly” (adding a courteous “please”). In response, May was forced to resort to attacking the last government (last in office more than six years ago) – the tell-tale sign of a beaten Prime Minister. For Corbyn, in the Commons at least, the year has ended well.
But the best line of the day came from May. Asked if pencilling “FO” by Boris Johnson’s name should have been taken “as an instruction”, not a job offer, the PM replied: “I have to say that the Foreign Secretary is doing an absolutely excellent job. He is, in short, an FFS: a fine Foreign Secretary.”