Jeremy Corbyn had the easiest lead into Prime Minister’s Questions today, and he didn’t squander it. He’d had a week to prepare, too, as Theresa May had offered him the lead last Wednesday when she told the Tory conference that austerity is over. So Corbyn took her line and applied it to mental health, policing, schools, local government and the treatment of disabled people.
His questions were long but good: they started with a retort to May’s answer on the previous topic before moving onto a new area and asking: ‘when will austerity end for’ this service. It was effective, not just because it highlighted the number of areas where the government is struggling to deliver, but also because it teased out the lack of sincerity in the claim itself. May tried to clarify her conference comments by saying that there would come an end to austerity, but not to fiscal responsibility.
Corbyn was nimble on his feet today. He highlighted a sleight of hand that May had deployed on mental health, where she claimed that ‘it is this government that has ensured that there will be parity of esteem’ between the treatment of mental and physical health. Not only does this make it sound as though parity is close (it isn’t), but it also ignores the fact that Labour amended the Health and Social Care Act so that the commitment made it into the front page. This was something Corbyn took great pleasure in pointing out.
May was generally not very confident today. She produced a lot of words but few answers – striking even for her average performance at PMQs – and seemed wrongfooted not just by opposition questions but also questions that she will have known were coming, such as the very first Tory question from Pauline Latham on support for the performing arts outside London. It’s almost as though the Prime Minister has run out of bandwidth to discuss anything other than Brexit.