It was better from Theresa May today. She was combative, prickly and forceful at PMQs. The ship is moving on a steadier course. And two toxic enemies have returned to the fold. In the days following the election, both Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan were ‘helpfully’ suggesting a possible timetable for Mrs May’s departure. Today they both asked supportive questions. And Mrs May read out the answers, tight-lipped. Only those within a yard of her could hear her molars grinding.
The Labour leader got a rather glum cheer from his party. He suggested that the PM should fund a pay-rise for nurses because ‘she seems to have found a billion pounds to save her own job.’
As usual, he had a missive of woe to delight us with. Today’s ray of sunshine was a teacher named ‘David’. This drew facetious whoops from the Tories. And Corbyn responded with a Cockney impersonation. ‘E’s a teacher, all right,’ huffed the Labour chief, ‘and ‘e’s doin a good job. All right?’ David’s testimony seemed calculated to drive anyone to despair. For seven years, the poor chap has enjoyed no pay increase at all (possibly because he’s doing a lousy job and has failed to gain promotion). He has watched in silent agony as the number of teachers leaving the profession has exceeded the number entering it. And his workload has soared. Where, one wonders, does the good David teach? If he’s employed by my local primary school, which is open for just 183 days out of 365, he already enjoys six months’ vacation. Plenty of time for a second career, perhaps manning the complaints desk at Labour HQ.
Mr Corbyn claimed that the pay-cap ‘recklessly exploits the goodwill of public servants’. Mrs May coyly replied that the cap was outside her remit. The entire question has been outsourced to ‘pay-review bodies’ whose recommendations the government invariably adopts. Millions would be saved if this daft paper-chase were abolished and ministers were required to set pay-levels. But ministers are more keen to save face than money.
Labour’s Khalid Mahmood asked about ‘our over-worked, over-stretched and underpaid nurses’ who, he said, ‘are having to use food-banks’. This tale has been expanding gradually and surreptitiously for some time. First, a single nurse was rumoured to have used a food-bank, once. Then it was several nurses visiting them regularly. Now, as suggested by Mahmood, nurses have no choice but to rely on charity for every scrap of bread they eat.
Who to believe? Labour wants us to imagine that all nurses must either beg or starve. The PM claims that the profession is in such rude health that 13,000 more of these angelic life-savers have joined the pay-roll since 2010.
The day’s silliest problem was raised by Brixton MP, Helen Hayes. She asked the PM to resolve a pay dispute at her local art-house cinema whose usherettes have gone on strike. It seems that the cine-philes of south London are suffering untold horrors. A Kurosawa retrospective has already been cancelled. There was no organic popcorn at last Saturday’s screening of Tarkovsky’s Solaris. A shortage of door-staff meant that a Ken Loach talk had to be called off. And the Ingmar Bergman birthday celebrations are in doubt. The traditional all-night screening of his entire opus may have to be moved to the Curzon, in Bloomsbury. Awful, isn’t it? First, nurses living off castaway bread-crusts, and now this.