Despite being heralded with jeers from Tory MPs, who resembled a rabble of misbehaving school kids, leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn held his ground, and made an entertaining mockery of David Cameron’s mathematical ability in today’s Prime Minister’s Questions.
Corbyn delivered a trademark move of his in the House of Commons, and began putting Cameron under pressure with questions from disgruntled ‘ordinary’ members of the public. One was from Liam, an aspiring Maths teacher, who was concerned about accumulating over £50,000 worth of debt after leaving University – thanks to the recent abolishment of student maintenance grants in England. This is over two years salary for a new maths teacher. Cameron suggested it was almost a non-issue, as students like Liam wouldn’t pay it back until earning over £21,000. Corbyn made much of the house laugh by responding “Liam is trying to be a maths teacher, which may help the Prime Minister”, as a new teacher would £25,000 per year; which is over the threshold of £21,000.
Of course, Cameron produced a comical moment himself, with Tory MP Karl McCartney saying that Labour had based its nuclear defence policy on The Beatles’ song ‘Yellow Submarine’, followed by Cameron taunting Corbyn for probably preferring the song ‘Back in the U.S.S.R’, in regards to his left-wing ethics.
Okay, before we go too far off-track, let’s get back to politics. Labour MP Alan Whitehead built on Corbyn’s accusations of the Prime Minister making life difficult for young people, denouncing his policy that restricts housing benefit from under 25s, on top of the axing of student maintenance grants. “What is it the Prime Minister’s got against young people trying to make their way in life?” says the Southampton Test MP.
Cameron responded with another personal jibe, suggesting that a Labour MP in South England is rare as they “talk down our country”.
Corbyn then went on to, quite rightly, point out that Cameron made no mention of cuts to maintenance grants in his pre-election manifesto last year. Nor did he do so with his intent of cutting tax credits.
Cameron’s ethics of remaining discreet about unpopular policies were of course highlighted during an uncomfortable (well, uncomfortable for Cameron, but not for non-Tory voters) yet memorable grilling from Jeremy Paxman last March, when Paxman asked Cameron why he didn’t mention his decision to raise VAT before being elected in 2010.
Hypocritically, Cameron then went on to criticise the Labour bench for being loud and interruptive (after Corbyn was repeatedly interrupted by Conservative MPs), he vilified Labour for being the ones to introduce tuition fees in the first place. Of course, this is true, but remember it was done by then-Tony Blair over a decade ago, and Corbyn was one of the most prominent voices opposing the move at the time. This was clearly a move to draw attention away from Cameron tripling the fees less than a year into power.
Cameron also made another one of his favourite claims: that the incumbent government has slashed unemployment levels, with 2.3 million more people in work since he became Prime Minister. While again a true point, how many of these roles include substantial hours, and meet an appropriate living wage for workers? Over 750,000 Britons are on zero-hour contracts, and with others reporting that they still struggle to get by.
This episode of PMQs once again highlighted Cameron’s desire to repeat fancy lines, and dodge around the question, to shut down challenges towards his leadership which are clearly tough – and by declaring Labour a “threat to national security”, thus awarding himself more credibility. From his position, this is an effective way of diverting spotlight away from his policies, and with much of the media helping him to do this, it will further cement his position in power, despite making unpopular decisions.