Tories are worried. The holiday season is here. And the last time their leader took a break – in Snowdonia – she came back with a brilliant plan to replace her comfortable majority with a coalition of rudderless squabblers.
She seemed aware of this today and her costume exuded Tory vitality. She was power-dressed in a shoulder-padded tunic of eye-dazzling blue. A lightning-bolt of pure Thatcher.
She was helped by her cabinet. The message about discipline seems to have got through to the conspirators and they laid on a theatrical ambush for Jeremy Corbyn.
As soon as the Labour leader mentioned ‘bickering ministers’ the entire front bench erupted in a pantomime of animated conversation. Corbyn didn’t know how to react to this. A weather front of startlement passed across his brows and he returned to his prepared notes.
Today’s lecture had a theme: destitution. And today’s lecture had a purpose: to demoralise the modestly paid and to lure them into the Labour fold with soon-to-broken promises. Corbyn announced the results of a recent survey which has found that 55 per cent of those in employment are also ‘in poverty’. He celebrated this discovery, naturally, and he welcomed a further prediction that by 2022 five million children will be ‘in poverty’ as well.
But not every news story is entirely straightforward. It all depends how ‘poverty’ is defined. If free schooling, free healthcare, a child allowance, a pension and a guaranteed minimum income are symptoms of poverty then everyone is afflicted. And that includes Jeremy Corbyn although he’s shielded from its worst side-effects by his salary which is large enough to pay for eight hospital porters. Somehow he didn’t mention that. Highly-paid poverty campaigners seldom include their own incomes in the audit.
Corbyn’s efforts were outdone by Dan Carden, the new member for Liverpool, Walton. This plump and well-tailored opportunist stood up, his ample jowls spilling over his immaculate white shirt, and his boot-polish hair glistening in the TV lights. He had one aim in mind. To trash the reputation of his home town. He made a superb job of it. He told the House that as the schools break up this week, ‘forty per cent’ of Liverpool’s children are suffering from deprivation. ‘Austerity bites,’ he predicted sombrely, ‘and kids don’t get fed.’ Clearly he believes that his constituency is full of heartless mums and dads who fully intend to starve their children over the summer. He proposed a remedy for this outbreak of moral squalor among his brethren: government intervention. ‘What is she doing now,’ he asked the prime minister, ‘to stop kids going hungry in Liverpool?’ Some may disagree with this analysis. Does Liverpool really need direct rule from Downing Street, along with the suspension of parental rights and the immediate despatch of food aid?
Mrs May advised him that the path out of poverty is a career. Not that Mr Carden needs any such guidance. He’s already chosen the path out of Liverpool and into a career deriding its residents and attacking its self-worth.
The session ended with a call from the SNP’s Kirsty Blackman to lower the voting age. ‘Sixteen’ she suggested, which is the number of times the average student voted at the last election.