We all know – now – that a special deal of some kind was struck between Conservative-run Surrey County Council and the Conservative Government in Westminster, to prevent that council from holding a referendum on whether to increase council tax by 15 per cent.
A leaked recording of a Conservative Group meeting told us there had been a “series of conversations” between an MP acting as an intermediary for the Surrey Council Tories and first the communities secretary, Sajid Javid, in a car outside Downing street, then Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
A deal was struck and a special advisor to Mr Hammond phoned Surrey Council leader David Hodge “with what we can and can’t say” about it.
We all know that – but Theresa May spent many minutes trying to convince us differently during Prime Minister’s Questions today (Wednesday, March 8).
When Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said:
A month ago, I raised the question of the leaked texts between the leader of Surrey County Council and Government officials about social care. The Prime Minister’s response was to accuse me of peddling “alternative facts”. Will she explain the difference between a sweetheart deal and a gentleman’s agreement?
Mrs May replied that he was really asking whether Surrey had been given a deal that was not available to other councils “and the answer is no”.
That’s called lying to Parliament.
So Mr Corbyn tried again:
A recording has now emerged showing that the leader of Surrey County Council, David Hodge, said that there was a “gentleman’s agreement” between him and the Government that meant that the council would not have to go ahead with a referendum. My question is: what deal was done with Surrey County Council? There is an acute social care crisis affecting every council, with £4.6 billion of cuts made to social care since 2010. Can the Prime Minister tell every other council in England what gentleman’s agreement is available for them?
She couldn’t. Instead she tried to obscure the issue by referring Mr Corbyn to the Budget speech that was due to take place after Prime Minister’s Questions, and with a particularly poor soundbite suggesting that “if he is looking to uncover a conspiracy, I suggest he looks behind him”.
Marks should go to the UK’s media and the right-whingers in the Labour Party for giving her that piece of ammunition – damp squib though it was.
So Mr Corbyn tried a different tack:
If all the arrangements are so clear and above board, will the Prime Minister place in the Library of the House a record of all one-to-one meetings between the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and the Chancellor and any council leader or chair of social services anywhere in England? If there is no special deal, can she explain why Surrey is the only county council to be allowed into the business rates retention pilot when it has been denied to others?
No, it seems Mrs may won’t be publishing a record of one-to-one meetings with council leaders or social services chairpeople; in fact, she didn’t even acknowledge the question. Instead she concentrated on the business rates retention pilot scheme, which is slowly being rolled out across the country.
Mr Corbyn tried to prompt her with more public knowledge:
The text said that there was a memorandum of understanding, and the Prime Minister said that there was no deal. She is now unclear about that. Did she actually know what arrangement was made with Surrey County Council? She is not keen to answer questions about that.
Mrs May responded by saying she believed she had answered this question three times, but would do it again: “There was no special deal for Surrey that was not available to other councils”.
So she lied to Parliament four times, then – because all the available evidence points to a deal being struck between Surrey and the Government that was not available to other councils.
Given the strength of the evidence on Mr Corbyn’s side, and the lack of anything like a decent defence on Mrs May’s, there could be no doubting the identity of the winner of the exchange:
— Mike Sivier (@MidWalesMike) March 8, 2017
But what were the details of any deal done between Surrey Council and the Tory Government?
We know that the council set its tax increase within the limits demanded by the law – but will it receive a cash injection for services? Or will services suffer? Which services?
And when will we know?
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