PMQs verdict: Corbyn goads May on refusing to consider election TV debate

19 Apr

Main points

Jeremy Corbyn was keen to goad Theresa May on her refusal to have a televised debate with party leaders ahead of the election and references to it peppered the exchange, which skipped through some of be the major election themes: leadership, the economy and public services funding. There was, however, no lengthy exchange on Brexit, where Corbyn is less sure of his ground. After welcoming the election (to jeers), Corbyn attacked first on the economy, accusing the Conservatives of presiding over a failure to eliminate the deficit, an increase in national debt, wages being lower than they were 10 years ago, and a failure to reduce child poverty. May answered that she was proud of her government’s achievements and reeled off record levels of employment and a two-thirds reduction in the deficit and higher pensioner incomes, among others. If she was so proud of her record, why wouldn’t she debate it, Corbyn replied. There followed a well-worn argument over schools and NHS/social care funding, before May reprised her speech from Monday, saying that every vote for the Tories would strengthen her hand in the Brexit negotiations and make it harder for those who wanted to stop her getting the job done.

The SNP leader, Angus Robertson, asked May to condemn some of the language (“saboteurs”) used on Wednesday morning’s front pages. May responded with a defence of the freedom of the press.

Verdict

Corbyn and Robertson both pressed May over her refusal to take part in TV debates, but without seriously discomforting her, and without anyone saying anything especially illuminating or noteworthy.

Corbyn v May was a relatively tedious stalemate. Corbyn launched a broadside attack, covering a range of what he described as broken Tory promises, but without delivering a memorable headline soundbite. His points about the debate were effective (particularly the comeback towards the end), but anyone listening and hoping to glean one single reason why people should vote Labour would have been disappointed. May at least had a more robust soundbite – set up for her in advance by Alberto Costa’s question (see 12.05pm). It was glib, but serviceable for the election campaign.

Robertson also asked about the debates but, more interestingly, he noticed that on the Today programme May broke the habit of a lifetime and said something critical of the Daily Mail. She said she did not agree with its “Crush the saboteurs” headline (see 9.21am). Asked about it again by Robertson, this time she refused to disown the headline. She said it was important to defend a free press (ignoring the rather obvious point that you can support a free press without having to agree with everything it prints.)

Memorable lines


Why are so many people getting poorer?

Simple but effective from Corbyn on wage growth versus inflation


I know it’s taken him a long time to get the hang of prime minister’s questions but he asks me questions and I answer them.

May on the lack of need for a TV debate

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