Wearing Thatcher blue, a defiant Theresa May looked steely and confident as she walked into the Commons amid cheers from her MPs.
But Jeremy Corbyn appeared determined as well – going on the Brexit dividend and asking ‘what taxes are going up?’ was a canny opener.
May hit back: ‘We have set a five-year funding settlement that will be funded. There will be money that we are no longer sending to the EU that we can spend on the NHS … I know that policy is not the policy of the Labour front bench.’
May then mentioned how some Labour front benchers had called the claim that Brexit money would be spent on the NHS a ‘deceit’ before finally quoting Corbyn saying ‘we will use the money returned from our exit from the EU on our public services …’ Another case of Labour confusion seemingly exposed.
Corbyn retorted: ‘Could I remind the prime minister the question I asked was about taxation? … Which taxes are going up and for who?’
She dodged that one.
Corbyn then started quoting figures. And the devil always lies in the detail. He said: ‘Her figures are so dodgy that belong on the side of a bus.’ That was the best line Corbyn has produced for weeks.
He added: ‘We expect that from the foreign secretary but why is the prime minister pushing her own Mickey Mouse figures?’
May, a little rattled, began to explaining her health funding. It was no clearer.
Corbyn, quite rightly, continued to pick away at the spending promises: ‘Does that mean extra borrowing or higher mystery taxes?’
The prime minister said: ‘There is a fundamental difference between us … we do believe in keeping taxes low, we do believe in putting money into our public services and we do believe in dealing with our debt and we get debt falling. What would the Labour party do? They would bankrupt our economy.’ It is a tried and tested line.
They then locked horns on funding stats – its hard to believe either of them quite frankly.
Then Corbyn went up a gear, cleverly humanising the debate by quoting a letter from a member of the public with a diabetic daughter who needs a wheelchair but has been told the NHS cannot afford it.
May answered: ‘We are putting in extra money to see an improvement in the NHS.’
Corbyn finished on: ‘Waiting lists are the worst ever … cancer treatment targets not met for over three years … nurse numbers falling, GPs numbers falling and 100,000 staff vacancies, NHS trusts a billion in deficit … the prime minister is writing IOUs just to stand still … until the prime minster is straight about where the money is coming from why should anyone, anywhere trust them on the NHS?’
It was a strong finish delivered with panache and elan.
May came back with some fire but it was the same old line about how Labour must not be trusted with the purse strings. She may have a point in that some of Corbyn’s pledges seem fanciful. But while she is ducking and diving over exactly where her NHS funding is coming from it all feels rather empty.
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