Kate Taylor: Does anything but Brexit matter in this general election?

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Today saw what could be the last clash between the Prime Minister and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn prior to the general election. The session was the longest on record coming in at 58 minutes, nearly double the usual weekly time slot, leading to heated debate and the media waiting with baited breath for official party manifestos.

PM Theresa May has refused to take part in any televised debates with fellow party leaders, leaving the public and media alike confused given her supposed confidence in a Conservative majority. As such, Corbyn also refused to take part in any debates without May, and focused on a number of key areas including the NHS and welfare state during today’s PMQs, which gave way to SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson asking questions May didn’t appear too keen on.

Robertson asked if the Prime Minister would give a “clear and unambiguous” answer to whether she intended to keep the triple-lock on pensions – first brought in by the Tory-Lib Dem coalition in 2010 to ensure state pensions increase yearly. The PM dodged the question not once, but twice, stating that under the Conservative Government pensions have continued to rise.

This is all very well and good, but as we’ve seen with the repeated welfare cuts leaving many of this country’s most vulnerable in dire straights (not to mention May’s repeated promises that a snap election would not be called), can we really trust retorts made in response to such blatantly dodged questions?

And what of the Labour Party? Leader Jeremy Corbyn has insisted once again that NHS staff would see pay rises across the board funded by reversing corporation tax cuts. Economically speaking it’s viable, but Labour has also promised this money to several others areas, leaving us to ask, does it all add up? When their party manifesto is released we will get a better look at the figures they’ve calculated and an understanding as to their priorities.

Ironically, the Conservative party are trying to focus this election on the need for a strong government to guide us through Brexit. In fact, us leaving the EU seems to dominate their thoughts, press releases and conversations in general right now. Given their urge to leave the European Union thus to focus on the UK itself, it seems odd that they don’t want to talk about the needs of the British public.

So what are the Conservatives actually focused on in terms of calling an early election? First thoughts were naturally down to them leading in the polls and thus having a strong starting point. Dennis Skinner has other ideas.

In a recent interview with i news after a rousing speech the House of Commons on the same topic, Labour MP Dennis Skinner said “It’s quite clear: it’s because the Crown Prosecution Service are due to make a decision on Tory election expenses,” he says.

12 police forces have sent information to the CPS regarding the spending involved with the 2015 election ‘battle bus’ supposedly sent around the country to win over voters in selected areas. Essentially, each political party is allowed a certain amount of campaign expenses in each constituency; local leaders have to sign off on all expenditure – any errors, accidental or otherwise, are illegal. The Battle Bus was registered under national expenses which is a separate pot, but it was used to help local candidates, thus the confusion arises. If found guilty, the 30 nameless MPs could be heavily fined if not imprisoned. Thus May’s 14 seat majority lead could be undone if by-elections suddenly had to be called.

Lincoln MP Karl McCartney sent an email to the Conservative party chairman Patrick McLoughlin which was then leaked, stating that he and other MPs were “left to fend for themselves” and felt “completely cast adrift”. The fact that MPs within the party have got to the point where they feel cut off from Westminster only adds to the feeling that the Government is more interested in votes than voters.

With parliament due to go into recess, the next big step will be the release of manifestos which will be torn apart like an A-Level literature piece within hours. Will Labour’s financial promises stack up? Will the Liberal Democrats give us something to vote for? And will the Tories declare their imminent intentions for us, the voters and our everyday lives?

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