PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn's scattergun approach is made for social media

In advance of the local elections, the Labour leader provided his party with a string of shareable clips. 

NS

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

The final Prime Minister’s Questions before the local elections was a dizzying experience. Jeremy Corbyn ranged from the Windrush scandal to the economy, the NHS, school cuts, police numbers and council tax.

This scattergun approach put limited pressure on Theresa May compared to more forensic questioning. But it had a purpose: in advance of tomorrow’s contests, Corbyn provided Labour with succinct interventions on all the major election issues (easily shareable on social media). Rather than triumphing in the House, Corbyn has his eye on victory outside of it. 

The Labour leader began well, asking May whether she felt “the slightest pang of guilt when the home secretary was forced to resign due to the failures of her predecessor”. The Prime Minister, whose standing was improved by her wise appointment of Sajid Javid, repeated his vow “to do right” by the Windrush generation and promised “a full review of lessons learned with independent oversight”. The question remains whether this will be purely be a change of style (“hostile environment” has been abandoned for a “compliant” one) or one of substance.

Corbyn also rightly rebuked Philip Hammond for his hubristic boast that he felt “positively Tigger-like” about the economy (subsequent growth in Q1 was 0.1 per cent - the worst for five years). Though the UK has achieved a current budget surplus for the first time in 16 years, household debt (privatised Keynesianism), as Corbyn noted, is rising.

When the Labour leader warned of the worst A&E waiting times on record, May repeated her promise of a “long-term plan with sustainable multi-year funding” (in other words, a tax increase).

Corbyn ended by declaring that “with the Tories you pay more and you get less”. May retorted that council tax in the flagship Conservative borough of Wandsworth was £700 lower than in Labour-held Lambeth. For the Tories, who have adeptly managed expectations, retaining a borough they have held for 50 years will now be presented as a triumph.

Throughout the session anticipation grew as Amber Rudd sought to catch the Speaker’s eye. But when she did, to loud cheers from Conservative MPs, her question was decidedly uncontroversial. She congratulated Javid (emphasising the need for a “safe immigration policy”) and praised the police and security services for their counter-terrorism work (recalling the five attacks last year and noting that the threat level remained at “severe”).

Remainers, of whom Rudd is one, will hope that her future backbench interventions are more provocative.

George Eaton is deputy editor of the New Statesman.