Inside Westminster, people talk of little else but Brexit. Yet as Jeremy Corbyn is aware, that is far from the case in the rest of UK. At today’s PMQs, the Labour leader eschewed Brexit (an issue that divides his party) in favour of housing (an issue that unites Labour).
Equipped with an arsenal of statistics, Corbyn savaged the Conservatives’ record: “Homelessness is up by 50 per cent, rough sleeping has doubled, homelessness and rough sleeping have risen every single year since 2010. Will the Prime Minister pledge today that 2018 will be the year that homelessness starts to go down?”
May highlighted the £500m the government had provided to reduce homelessness but, as Corbyn observed, no pledge was “forthcoming”. The Prime Minister insisted, with some justification, that her administration had made progress (217,350 new homes were built in 2016/17, the highest number since the crash). But the resources devoted in are still too meagre to have a transformative effect.
When Corbyn noted that evictions were at a record level and that a mere one in five council homes had been replaced when sold, May exclaimed: “He talks about the Right to Buy, I have to say – what a contrast. We want to give people the opportunity to buy their own home, the Labour Party would take that opportunity away from them.”
But this is now treacherous territory for the Conservatives. “Under the Tories, home ownership has fallen 200,000 – under Labour it rose by one million,” Corbyn riposted. The vigour with which he defended the last Labour government’s record (about which he is often accused of having nothing good to say) was the most notable feature of today’s session (Corbyn also pointed out that homelessness was reduced by two-thirds from 1997-2010).
And Corbyn ended with an ideal attack line for the Six O’Clock News and viral videos: “When is this government going to get out of the pockets of property speculators and rogue landlords and get on the side of tenants and people without a home of their own this Christmas?”
It was left to other MPs to challenge May on Brexit. Labour’s Heidi Alexander challenged the PM to give MPs a vote on single market membership. May riposted that a decision had already been taken by the people (a sign that she has no intention of embracing “soft Brexit”). And when Anna Soubry urged the PM to embrace Dominic Grieve’s amendment guaranteeing a “meaningful vote” on Brexit, May warned this would threaten an “orderly and smooth” withdrawal. A verbal promise of a vote was all she offered Tory Remainers – the rebels’ bluff has been called.