Golden sunshine streamed across Westminster at noon. And Jeremy Corbyn wiped away the cheer as soon as he stood up at PMQs. Performing his sad-sack routine, he grouched his way through six questions about ‘painful austerity’. Theresa May wants Scrooge replaced by Lady Bountiful in the corridors of Whitehall. But it hasn’t happened, grumbled the Labour leader. Crime, poverty and mental illness are soaring. May hit back with a barrage of statistics. Britain’s lucky citizenry is awash with cash, she said. Billions here, billions there. More for cops, teachers, hospitals, mental health. The figures gushed like an exploded water-main. ‘200 billion pounds’, she flannelled vaguely, had been made available ‘between 2015 and 2020’, (neglecting to add that most of that period has already elapsed.) She mentioned an additional £1.3m for councils and that ‘extra money for social care’ had been announced at the Tory conference. Local authorities, she went on, would enjoy ‘access to £9.6bn of dedicated funding’. (What’s dedicated funding?) She even vowed to give welfare claimants two billion pounds in unclaimed payments left over from Labour’s broken system. So why do councils face ‘tough decisions’ if they’re flush with cash? Labour’s fault, she said. They shafted the economy.
Tory backbencher Peter Aldous wants to end vagrancy forever. We just need ‘bespoke initiatives’ to ensure that ‘no one ever has to sleep rough in the first place’. This means a national network of free hotels for all-comers, just like the NHS. Not even the richest state in the world could afford such a folly. May’s answer, offering cash-prizes all round, mentioned that large sums would be available for ‘training’. This is the catch in homelessness funding. No one needs ‘training’ to spot that vagrants are living in a tin shack under a bridge. But local authorities like to provide ‘educational awaydays’ and other freebies for staff who lounge in hired conference halls listening to PowerPoint presentations while tramps shiver in doorways a few yards from the cosy meeting rooms. Homes are the only answer to homelessness. Every penny spent elsewhere is squandered.
Alistair Carmichael urged the PM not to trade away Britain’s fishing rights during the Brexit talks. Of course not, trilled May. Quitting the EU will leave us ‘an independent coastal state. And we will control access to our waters.’ Which sounds fine. Then she added, ‘We will be seeking to gain a fairer share of quotas.’ Quotas from whom? If we’re in charge, we’ll be granting quotas, not seeking them.
Kenneth Clarke asked the PM to revive the dead-parrot known as ‘Chequers’. The Father of the House seems to have succumbed to an overdose of self-importance lately. He must have spent the entire morning memorising a question of Gibbonesque length and complexity. The gist was this. A proper Brexit is supported only by Labour’s ‘hard-line Eurosceptic Bennites’, he argued, and by ‘right-wing nationalists in this party’. (Rather a fruity label for Tory Brexiteers.) Therefore an exit deal will require the support of ‘pro-EU backbenchers’ from the two main parties. He’s probably right. Most MPs suffer from Acute Remain Disorder. May gave a kittenish smirk and said that when MPs vote on a final deal, ‘I hope everyone across this whole house will put the national interest first’. By ‘the national interest’ she means ‘my career.’ So her plan is now evident. Give the Chequers mummy a fresh winding sheet and a new label, and ask Remainer MPs to get on board. Bit of a risk there. Parliament may be happy to hug a corpse but the electorate is unlikely to reciprocate.