Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘stupid woman’ comment – only he and his cronies are sticking to the line he said ‘stupid people’ – shows how the even most pompous of the politically correct can become unstuck, writes John McLellan.
I’m sure I wasn’t alone in being reminded of that great French café owner and reluctant resistance hero Rene Artois during this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions. “You stupid woman, can’t you see I’m using my tongue to dislodge a chicken bone which has stuck in this poor girl’s throat?” he would ask his accusing wife, or give some such implausible excuse, when caught inflagrante with Yvette the barmaid in most episodes of ‘Allo ‘Allo.
It’s not hard to imagine a stereotype-based sitcom like that wouldn’t pass muster these days, especially as his wife always meekly accepted whatever preposterous reason he had for snogging the staff. And as for It Ain’t Half Hot Mum or Love Thy Neighbour, well, enough said.
These are less innocent times. After all, the script-writers of Love Thy Neighbour actually believed they were helping race relations by portraying the black couple as educated and eloquent, while Whitey next door was a slobbish Ukipper in the making.
Whether or not you believe the row over Jeremy Corbyn calling Theresa May a stupid woman (and only Mr Corbyn and his cronies hold to the line he said “stupid people”) is a trivial distraction from the Brexit crisis, it is an illustration of how easy it is for even the most pompous and politically correct to come unstuck by a slip of the tongue or an instinctive reaction.
But as so often is the case, the original offence became magnified by the desperate cover-up which followed. Had Mr Corbyn simply apologised for an unacceptable jibe, fallen below standards he sets himself, won’t happen again, the thing would quickly have blown over. But instead the Artois-like ridiculous excuse was hastily cobbled together and the story ran far longer than otherwise would have been the case.
So while misogyny, sexism, anti-semitism and dishonesty aren’t good looks for the leader of the ‘People’s Party’, it also demonstrated once again that he is incapable of landing any kind of blow on a beleaguered Prime Minister, especially on a day in which the new White Paper on immigration was already falling apart because of divisions within the Cabinet.
Amidst the biggest political melt-down in living memory, for the Labour party to be incapable of overtaking the Conservatives in the opinion polls says all you need to know about the Corbyn leadership. Rene Artois could do a better job. Or at least come up with more entertaining excuses.
Edinburgh needs migrants The immigration White Paper has been described as a missed opportunity by the Prime Minister’s former adviser Nick Timothy, the man blamed for the disastrous General Election manifesto. Timothy believes that the recommendations are so full of loop-holes that the number of arrivals will not be meaningfully reduced and that British workers will still face competition for work from unskilled immigrants.
Timothy blames Chancellor Phillip Hammond and Home Secretary Sajid Javid for watering down controls, but rather than blame them, from an Edinburgh perspective, I’d prefer to say thanks. With an unemployment rate of around 3.6 per cent, the capital’s jobless rate is at its lowest for decades, and the average full-time wage of £30,700 is above the figure proposed for immigrant workers to be granted residence.
That 3.6 per cent represents people who for whatever reason are unable to work full time, mostly because of health problems. In other words these people are not losing out to cheap foreign competition because they are not able to compete in the first place. And in an economy which relies on an influx of both high and low-skilled labour, be it in hospitality, services or, most critically, the building industry, turning off the supply is not an option.
SNP, not Tory, austerity behind council cuts Amidst the Brexit Crisis, Edinburgh faces a crisis of its own, now the full implications of Scottish Finance Secretary Derek Mackay’s budget are becoming clear. Until this week, Edinburgh Council was steeling itself for the implementation of £28m worth of cuts to its 2019 budget, but with £10m of saving still to be clawed back from last year this was not from a standing start.
As a result of a further cut in local government spending, Edinburgh now has to find £39m, so with the existing shortfall, city finance chiefs are actually wrestling with cuts amounting to over five per cent of the total budget.
These are the tough choices which governments have to make and the SNP at Holyrood has obviously decided its priorities lie elsewhere other than local government. That is their prerogative and for them to justify when set against an overall increase of the total it had to spend from £31.9 billion in 2017-18 to £32.7bn for 2018-19. And according to a new report published by the UK Treasury this week, the Scottish block grant after adjustments will increase from £18.6bn for 2018-19 to £20.2bn in 2019-20.
In May the Scottish Parliament Information Service reported the Scottish Government had cut council grants by £744m in the previous five years, a 7.1 per cent reduction, compared to a fall in its own revenue budget of £547m, just 1.8 per cent. So whatever reason the Scottish Government has for slashing council grants, Tory austerity isn’t one of them.
So where does this leave Edinburgh’s administration? For one thing, claims of a special relationship between the council and national leadership must extend only to social events because the direct benefit for the city is demonstrably non-existent. Where, however, does it leave the Labour Party, which shores up the administration and has to justify decisions over which it has no control?
Local Labour chief and deputy city leader Cammy Day claims he is better off inside the administration influencing decisions, but with the membership and several of his councillors agitating to end the coalition, how much longer can they go on undermining their own credibility as defenders of local services?