“How much will it cost to provide un-means-tested childcare for 1.3 million children?”
“It will obviously cost a lot to do so, we accept that.”
“I presume you have the figures?”
“Yes I do. It does cost a lot to do. The point I’m trying to make is we’re making it universal so that we’re in a position to make sure every child gets it; those who can at the moment get free places will continue to get them, and those who have to pay won’t, and we will collect the money through taxation, mainly through corporate taxation.”
“How much will it cost?”
“I’ll give you the figure in a moment.”
“You don’t know it? You’re logging into your iPad there.”
“Can I give you the exact figure in a moment?”
That, in case you didn’t recognise it, was from Jeremy Corbyn’s interview with Emma Barnett on BBC Radio Four a couple of days ago.
Politically I don’t quite know what I think about this. I can see how a politician can be caught unawares by a question about what a proposed policy would cost: political parties do make lots of proposals in their manifestos and perhaps it is unreasonable to expect them to carry around every cost for every such promise in their heads. Having said that, the Leader of the Labour Party’s gaffe was not a result of his being put on the spot: he was on Woman’s Hour, he wanted to talk about his approach to childcare, and he didn’t prepare an answer for the rather obvious question of ‘what’s it going to cost?’
Perhaps he’s ahead of his time. Advocates of twenty-first century learning may well approve of the Leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition’s response. The people who told me that “I don’t know, so let’s find out together: get out your iPads!” was the best kind of answer to a pupil’s question must be delighted at the adoption of this approach by so great a figure.