David Cameron is the master of deflection.
In a week that’s seen him warn Scotland of the dangers of a “One Party State” (ignoring the SNP’s overriding mandate to govern and a huge lead in the latest opinion polling) and engage in a heavily stage-managed “summit” with French President François Hollande (nicely curveballing from his Government’s appalling stance on the refugee “crisis”), today in PMQs he continued with that raison d’etre, this time when probed on, what broadly was, the Government’s record on support for the vulnerable.
In a session that saw Corbyn’s 100th question to the Prime Minister (“Call me Dave” quipping that JC was “100 – not out”, to rapturous guffaws from his back-bench, public school chums), Cameron spectacularly failed to answer one single question, by my reckoning – throwing his usual dodgy statistics and retorts about a “growing economy” around like Angela Merkel throws money at Turkey; left, right and centre.
Ignoring Corbyn’s challenge to the utterly nefarious £30 cut to Employment and Support Allowance for those in the “Work-related Activity Group” (going against the House of Lords, and unending calls from charities and trade unions), Cameron trotted out his guff about a growing economy, and incredulously said that “reforming welfare” was helping to “get the deficit down… helping to deliver for working people in Britain”. (Working? Those 800,000 people on zero-hours contracts, perhaps.)
This contemptable response from the PM regarding a slashing of vital support for those who are unable to work (but are often forced into a position where they are ludicrously deemed able to), for the benefit of a deficit which has been bestowed upon us by faceless corporatists in the City is wholly lamentable.
Not that Cameron seemed concerned.
He blustered through the session, pulling statistic, after statistic, after statistic out of his flaccid, dubiously unverifiable hat (“Corporation Tax receipts up by 20%!” “680,000 fewer workless households!”), seemingly oblivious to the fact that Corbyn was actually asking him quite direct questions this week. He had no answer’s on whether it was right that multinationals should have received a £6.6bn reduction in tax, while “someone dying of cancer, not fit to work next year is reduced to poverty”, as Corbyn succinctly put it.
Regarding “Call me Dave’s” stats on “relative poverty” (“Labour’s measure” – ignoring the fact that was under Blair/Brown – not Corbyn), these are drawn from the Institute for Fiscal Studies analysis – which also stated that “rates of income poverty among working families have been rising” – which Cameron seems happy to ignore (along with the IFS forecast that the number of children in poverty is set to increase by 8% by 2020, with 40% of this rise attributable to his welfare “reforms”).
A higher rate of statistical manipulation was fired from the PM’s dispatch box today than web traffic was received to Kim Kardashian’s latest “selfies”, with the PM claiming housing starts were up (while housebuilding is at its lowest level for three years), that his Government are investing in “energy projects” (ignoring his cuts to solar subsidies and the chaos surrounding the new Hinkley power station) and (wait for it) that George Osborne has an “excellent record” on the economy. One wonders just what Gideon put in Cameron’s tea, this morning, in substitute for sugar…
Corbyn, however, was generally on good form today – he has seemingly dropped his “kinder politics” stance for a more impassioned performance at PMQs – although this is still by no means perfect.
His decision to flip-flop between topics today, using the broad umbrella of the effect of Government policy on the most vulnerable in society only worked to a point; it gave him little manoeuvrability to admonish Cameron on his utterly preposterous responses, and also the whole thing felt rather disjointed. He would do well to stick to his previous battle plan of nailing him on one specific subject matter. But broadly his arguments were pertinent, and brought home the overall disregard the Tories have for those at the lower rungs of society – his discourse on child poverty and especially the £2bn reduction to children and young people’s services were especially effective.
Today’s spectacle was summed up rather well when Corbyn jibed that, on his 100th question, “99% of his previous attempts at asking the PM” had left him “unclear or dissatisfied” by the answers – although I’m dubious whether PMQs can ever be deemed an “auspicious occasion”, as Corbyn somewhat sarcastically lauded – along with a nicely-done nod to the Two Ronnie’s “Mastermind” sketch.
But “unclear or dissatisfied” is a succinct appraisal of a Prime Minister who has gone from being a disaster for the most vulnerable in society, to being a near-apocalypse. It’s often said that a Government pushes through most of its reforms in its first year of Parliament. Let’s hope so, as if not – how much worse can it possibly get?
Cameron – 2/10. Your worst performance in God knows how long. Go home and think about what you’ve done.
Corbyn – 7/10. Good to see you finding your feet, with your style. But do stick to one topic, otherwise snake-oil “Call me Dave” gets away with it. Again.