Jeremy Corbyn was left floundering on live radio today when he repeatedly failed to answer how much his flagship childcare promise would cost.
The Labour leader was “kebabbed” on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour after he was asked how much funding was needed for his party’s universal pledge of 30 hours per week of free childcare.
At one stage the presenter told millions of listeners that Mr Corbyn was reaching, in vain, for an iPad to find the figure. Not only was the interview a disaster for Mr Corbyn, but it also struck at the heart of accusations that Labour’s financial sums do not add up.
Mr Corbyn’s radio troubles started when presenter Emma Barnett asked him: “How much will it cost to provide un-means-tested childcare for 1.3 million children?”
Immediately struggling for the number, Mr Corbyn responded: “It will cost … it will obviously cost a lot to do so, we accept that.” Ms Barnett pressed him: “I presume you have the figures?
Mr Corbyn said: “Yes I do. It does cost a lot to do. The point I’m trying to make is we’re making it universal so we’re in a position to make sure every child gets it and those at the moment who get free places. Those who have to pay won’t and we will collect the money through taxation. Mainly through corporate taxation.” But Ms Barnett, who was questioning him over whether he had what it takes to be prime minister, refused to let him off the hook, asking again: “How much will it cost?”
Mr Corbyn responded: “I’ll give you the figure in a moment.”
As he flailed around for an answer, Ms Barnett interrupted: “You’re logging into your iPad there…”
Clearly uncomfortable, Mr Corbyn said: “Can I give you the exact figure in a moment?”
With experts warning of a £9 billion funding black hole for Labour’s manifesto, Ms Barnett stepped up the questioning, saying: “Is this not the issue with the Labour Party that we cannot trust you with our money?”
Mr Corbyn answered: “Not at all. All of our manifesto is fully costed and examined… and…”
But Ms Barnett pointed out: “You’re holding your manifesto, you’ve got an iPad there, you’ve had a phone call while we’re in here and you don’t know how much it’s going to cost?”
Seemingly playing for time, the Labour leader asked: “Can we come back to that in a moment?”
But the presenter demanded: “What, when you’ve looked it up?! My point is it’s quite troubling, this is a policy you’re launching today and you don’t know how much it’s going to cost. It hardly inspires the voters.”
The exchanges continued, with Mr Corbyn saying: “I think what is important for voters to understand is if we don’t invest in our children, and we don’t invest in them for the future... they do less well in the future.”
Ms Barnett added: “But you don’t know the cost?”
Mr Corbyn: “I want to give you an accurate figure.”
Ms Barnett: “Why on earth are you giving free childcare to people who can afford it? It’s un-means-tested, you don’t have the figure.”
Senior Tories quickly seized on the Labour leader’s interview.
Bob Neill, seeking re-election as MP for Bromley and Chislehurst, said: “Jeremy Corbyn must have thought he was going to be served up easy questions on Woman’s Hour so he did not bother to prepare enough.
“He has been well and truely kebabbed.”
At Westminster, Mr Corbyn’s grilling was being compared to Diane Abbott’s interview earlier this month when she blundered while trying to explain how Labour would fund 10,000 more police officers.
Cabinet minister Priti Patel said: “He’s just made Diane Abbott’s grasp of detail look impressive.
“Jeremy Corbyn isn’t up to the job of leading our country through the challenges ahead.”
Mr Corbyn endured more misery when Ms Barnett asked him: “Would you like to know how much your policy is going to cost, Mr Corbyn?”
“What is your estimate of it?” he replied testily.
The presenter then told him that his shadow education secretary Angela Rayner had costed Labour’s schools policies at £2.7 billion for childcare, plus £4.8 billion in schools funding and half a billion for reversing SureStart cuts. She asked, “Does that sound right?”.
The Labour leader admitted: “It does sound correct.”
Addressing claims that his office was run “chaotically”, Mr Corbyn said: “Well, I beg your pardon, my office is not run chaotically at all. We have put together in two weeks - because the election was obviously unexpected - a comprehensive manifesto.”
The Labour leader has put the creation of a “national education service” at the heart of his party’s election campaign, which would extend 30 hours of free childcare each week to all children before they start school, regardless of family circumstances.
The policy would benefit more than 1.3 million children as complex rules mean only 40 per cent of two-year-olds qualify while many working parents with three and four-year-old children are missing out, according to Labour.
A spokesman added: “Labour’s universal childcare plan will transform the lives of more than a million children and is fully costed as laid out in our Funding Britain’s Future document at £5.3 billion in 2021/22.”