An astonishing PMQs. Theresa May no longer looks like a sheeted ghost. She’s quit the sick-bay and acquired a veneer of normality. Chipper, brisk, in command. Cheerful even. Jeremy Corbyn gave a lacklustre performance typified by the artless syntax of his opening phrase:
‘Her chaotic and incompetent government has driven our country into chaos.’
He probed her on the indicative votes but she shrugged him aside. Using a favourite ploy she poured scorn on his forensic skills. ‘He shouldn’t just read out the question he thought of earlier,’ she hectored. ‘Listen to the answer.’
She picked at Labour’s confused positions on the Customs Union and the second referendum. ‘What happened to straight-talking honest politics?’ she gloated cockily. She was enjoying herself.
Corbyn’s final question was like a stump-speech to a Marxist fringe-meeting. He droned on about ‘homelessness and knife crime’ and a Prime Minister, ‘stoking division.’ Real flat-battery stuff. The PM dismissed him as ‘the biggest threat to our standing in the world.’ As she finished, she was greeted by an almost-forgotten chorus.
‘More! More! More!’ hooted the Conservatives. This was Parliament at its most perverse. The noise of the Tory ranks cheering their boss to the rafters while whetting their knives behind their backs.
Next, the SNP’s Ian Blackford. He wore a yellow tie which hung down his shirt-front like a streak of omelette regurgitated after a champagne breakfast. He was full of bluster as he yelped about the Brexit negotiations and the prospect of ‘an extreme right-wing Brexiteer’ entering Number 10. By ‘extreme’ and ‘right-wing’ he means a one-nation Tory like Esther McVey or Dominic Raab. The portly Scot – once likened to a jelly – wobbles most when the ground is shifting beneath him. And he may, unintentionally, have reflected how the tectonic plates are moving.
The session was remarkable for its omissions. There were no angry Blairites demanding a back-door Customs Union. There wasn’t a peep from the Independent Group (TIG) which has evolved, in a few short weeks, from a political revolution to a doodle in the margins of history. Nor was there any talk of betrayal from the DUP. Two of their members were called. Jim Sheridan asked about dementia research. And Nigel Dodds, who was greeted by an expectant hush, fed the PM a marshmallow by raising inward investment to Belfast.
The botched March 29 departure date was mentioned only by Bill Cash who challenged the Statutory Instrument which this evening will make the delay to Brexit legal. Cash-bashers may fault his performance – he split his question into two parts and he spoke in a dull, court-room style. But the house gave its verdict while he was on his feet. Members yawned, sighed, tutted and shifted audibly. It was the harrumph of an uppity student moaning, ‘whatever.’ Parliament gives the impression that Brexit was a thing of the past.
May felt sufficiently relaxed to flirt with a senior Lib Dem. Jamie Stone, a languid old gent, represents a craggy Scottish constituency not far from Norway. Britain’s first space-centre is being built there. His question about rockets blasting off from red-hot launch-pads seemed to galvanise May. With glistening eyes she sought him out across the aisle. ‘I’m a little disappointed in him,’ she tittered as she expressed her regret that he hadn’t issued her with ‘a second invitation’ to a hotel in his constituency, (whatever that meant). Then she added a coy afterthought. ‘Maybe I’ll be able to look at the space-port from the hotel windows.’
Calm down, Prime Minister.