It’s that time of year. The Sunday Times Rich-List is out. To most of us it’s a negligible frivolity. To the hard left it’s hard porn. Their trembling fingers swipe through its glossy pages. Their ravening eyes gaze with confused adoration at the wrinkled oligarchs and their marmalade-coloured wives. At PMQs today Jeremy Corbyn captured this covetous ardour by deriding Theresa May for accepting donations from ‘hedge-fund tycoons’.
She replied that income inequality has fallen since 2010. ‘Labour,’ she said, ‘want to bring people down. Conservatives want to raise people up.’
Corbyn moved to the issue of starvation among poor children. The Labour leader revealed that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in Victoria Street now has its own foodbank for staff. How amazing! My dad worked for decades in that very building when it was the Department of Trade and Industry. If free grub had been available in the 1970s, I expect he’d have smuggled a few goodies into his government briefcase and handed them out to his children. That would have made me a ‘victim of food poverty’. Today I could claim the honour of being a ‘food poverty survivor’.
A statistical trick is been worked here by a devious crew of lobbyists, many of whom occupy (and quite a few threaten to splinter) the Labour benches. It’s a curious fact that a child ‘victim’ once ensnared by the campaign is never released. All children in Britain receive subsidised schooling, dentistry and healthcare, and any pupil who additionally qualifies for a free lunch is registered as ‘impoverished’ and becomes a creature of the lobby. The ‘poverty’ label is permanent. Jeremy Corbyn seemed to quiver with glee as he revealed that modern Britain boasts half a million malnourished kiddiewinks. Half a million minors rolling in the gutters, clutching their bellies like Dickensian orphans? In what sense is a child who attends school and is properly fed, clothed and housed a ‘victim’ of anything other than a hypocrite’s appetite for bad news?
Corbyn moved to his next brainwave: standardising the minimum wage for all workers, irrespective of age. The youngest will lose most from this. Why would a firm hire a jobless teenager when a mature candidate whose CV brims with life-skills is available at the same rate?
Mrs May defused his attack with two figures. The Tories had lowered youth unemployment by 50 per cent, she said. Under Labour it rose by 44 per cent.
Bliss descended briefly on May’s backbenchers.
‘Shocking! Outrageous!’ came the cries of fake indignation.
‘Apologise!’ they jeered at the Labour boss. It was a welcome change from muttering ‘resign’ at their own leader.
Peter Bone was the only Tory who tried to purge Number 10 of its unbudgeable limpet.
His speech was informed by a mood of rebellion in the heartlands. Despite glorious campaigning weather, the footsoldiers have stayed at home. Many a suburban path has gone untrodden. Piles of leaflets sit undelivered at constituency offices. Knockers are left untouched. The battle-ranks have baulked at the traditional ding-dong on the doorstep.
Bone stood up and recited, in funereal tones, a letter from dispirited activists. They poured vitriol on May’s deal and urged her to accept a WTO Brexit.
Sir,’ he said to the Speaker, sorrowfully. ‘They have lost confidence in the prime minister. They wish her gone. Prime Minister, what message do you have?’
Her message, and her focus, have never changed. Instead of blaming herself for creating a deal with hardly any support, she blamed MPs for not supporting the insupportable.