Corbs is back. And he’s getting his act together. He showed up at PMQs looking estate-agent smart. White shirt, natty blue suit, a red tie mounting, nearly, to its correct position at the throat. His second landslide victory has suffused him with calmness and authority. As he boasted to Mrs May, his position as leader was confirmed by 300,000 members of his party. ‘More than her,’ he needled.
The Labour leader is changing his tactics. He’s ditched his habit of using PMQs to pass on gripes from a mysterious Customer Complaints Desk at Labour HQ. This politically suspicious and psychologically whiney ploy was never likely to prosper. It painted Corbyn in negative colours: as weak, gullible, short of ideas and happy to be led by his own followers. Now he quotes the Tories back at themselves.
‘We risk going backwards when it comes to international trade,’ said Mrs May, earlier this year. She was, as we know, a tireless enthusiast for the EU and she travelled the length and breadth of her dining-room urging everyone to vote Remain. Corbyn ought to have made Mrs May squirm with embarrassment over this quote. But, being a daft numpty, he blew his advantage and moved on to a less damaging sound-bite from Kenneth Clarke. Corbyn entirely lacks the killer instinct. Maybe it’s the vegetarianism.
He and his team have realised that the word ‘Brexit’ might be weaponised. For some it spells freedom. For others it suggests xenophobia, protectionism, economic peril, the sterling swallow-dive. Pretty soon any nuisance at all, from hate-crime to an unwanted slug in your Lufthansa salad, will be blamed on our reverse-Anschluss from Brussels. So Corbs has given birth to a new political entity. ‘The Brexit shambles,’ he called it. And later the ‘shambolic Tory Brexit’. Smart positioning. Come the next election he can blame absolutely everything on Mrs May and her ‘fluffed negotiation.’
But she skewered him brilliantly at the end. She linked Corbyn’s re-election with the demands for a second referendum coming from the Labour benches:
‘You can ask the same question again but you still get the same answer you don’t want.’
Inch-perfect delivery. Exeter supermodel Ben Bradshaw threw Mrs May a devilishly simple question: Would she join the French in reporting Russia for war crimes? Alas, the bouffant buffoon spoiled his ambush by adding a supplementary query about no-fly zones. Given a few extra seconds to prepare her answer, Mrs May managed to wriggle free with sneaky mastery. She claimed that the government had some years ago attempted to report Russia via the Security Council but the effort had been vetoed by – guess who – Russia.
Vernon Coker did better with a short-fuse grenade. Why build our new nuclear subs with French and not British steel? Mrs May had no answer so she delivered a lengthy concatenation of words that held no meaning at all:
‘We recognise the concerns of steel-workers and we will work to ensure we can do what we can to work to encourage and retain a steel industry in this country.’
Goodness she looked uncomfortable. Spouting bilge, to her credit, is not her forte. (Cameron, by contrast, was the supreme master of the vacuous reply. He was to waffling what Messi is to dribbling.)
But the Labour whips should note. Mrs May projects complete dominance. That eerie smile, those lethal blue irises and that Narnia hairdo give her an air of invincibility. But she is fallible. Coker got her. Bradshaw missed – but only by a whisker. Corbs could do it too.