At the final PMQs before the general election, Jeremy Corbyn echoed his first. “When I became leader of the opposition 18 months ago,” he began (to Tory cries of “More!”), “I said I wanted people’s voices to be heard in Parliament”. Having long abandoned his “people’s questions” approach, Corbyn returned to it, highlighting Theresa May’s reluctance to face the public.
As the Labour leader challenged her on the public sector pay cap, the housing crisis and school cuts, May stuck resolutely to her script, framing herself as the only leader who can defend the national interest.
When not warning that Labour would bankrupt the economy, the Tories remorselessly target its weak spot on security. May attacked Corbyn for “refusing to say he would strike against terrorism, refusing to commit to our nuclear deterrent and refusing to control our borders – keeping our country safe is the first duty of a prime minister”. The PM showed the risks of rebuttal sites when she drew on the Diane Abbott-promoted “I like Jeremy Corbyn but…” “It says, ‘how will he pay for all this?’, ‘BUT I’ve heard he’ll increase taxes’, ‘BUT I’ve heard he’s a terrorist sympathiser’, ‘BUT his attitudes about defence worry me’ – they are right to be worried … even his own supporters know he’s not fit to run the country.”
Corbyn’s rhetoric was similarly familiar, though he again quoted Tony Blair as he declared that “Strong leadership is about standing up for the many, not the few.” In an echo of Ed Miliband, he added: “They are strong against the weak and weak against the strong”. But not for the first time, it was left to the SNP’s Angus Robertson to land the biggest blow. When he asked May to give “a clear and unambiguous commitment to maintaining the triple lock on the state pension”, she refused to do so, instead promising that “pensioner incomes would continue to increase”. This could mean increasing the state pension in line with inflation and/or earnings, rather than by 2.5% (whichever is highest).
Robertson surmised: “I asked the Prime Minister a pretty simple question. It was a yes or a no and the Prime Minister failed to answer. So pensioners right across this land are right to conclude that this Tory Prime Minister plans to ditch the triple lock.” Unlike May, Corbyn vowed to “guarantee” the triple-lock. As Labour has learned to its cost in past elections, pensioners vote more than any other group. Though many will judge it bad policy, in the opposition’s parlous state, Corbyn’s pledge is good politics.