Double bubble at PMQs. With MPs leaving Westminster a week early, the Speaker ruled that two sessions of PMQs should rub up against each other. It was a full one-hour grilling. Boris adopted his ‘Britain in wartime’ pose. He heaped every questioner with praise and gave his answers with theatrical solemnity. Asked about testing-rates, he offered good news on their increasing frequency. ‘From 5,000 to 10,000 to 25,000.’ Trouble is, he said that last week.
Jeremy Corbyn complained that the healthcare supply association is so short of bio-hazard suits that it has to beg for donations on Twitter. Luckily Boris had just come from a meeting with someone in a uniform. ‘The army is now distributing the supplies to all the hospitals that need them, and 7.5 million pieces of equipment have been delivered in the last 24 hours.’
This was Jeremy Corbyn’s final PMQs so he used it to make a last-gasp attempt at overthrowing capitalism. As a rhetorical device this was neatly done. He inverted the free-market creed that the cleaner’s livelihood depends on the CEO’s abilities. In this crisis, he said, the CEO’s life depends on the cleaner’s abilities.
As a send-off, Boris saluted Corbyn's, ‘sincerity and determination to build a better society.’
‘That sounded like an obituary,’ came the prickly reply. ‘My voice will not be stilled! … I’ll be demanding justice for the people of this country and the rest of the world.’
Boris started to throw jovial banter at him across the despatch box. Back came another slapdown. ‘This is not a time for levity,’ grumped Corbyn.
The PM got up. ‘This is not a time for levity,’ he boomed, not wishing to be out-Churchilled. ‘This is a time for serious action.’
The house was full of fawning Tories who commended Boris’s leadership and praised his performance last Monday night when he announced the lockdown on TV. Zombie backbenchers kept repeating the government’s advice as if they’d been collectively micro-chipped by the Home Office. ‘Stay at home,’ they droned, ‘protect our NHS, save lives.’
As this was a double session, Corbyn had been allotted six extra questions. He finished with an ‘Imagine-all-the-people’ speech about societies becoming stronger when everyone cares for each other. Privately he must be devastated to quit the field just as Britain becomes a socialist state ruled by a politburo of toffs and millionaires. How galling for Chairman Corbyn to watch impotently as an Etonian appoints himself father-of-the-nation and gives televised press-conferences every night.
As Corbyn left the chamber there wasn’t a peep of acknowledgement from his own side. Not a hear-hear was muttered, not an order paper waved. He sidled away past Dawn Butler, hunched over some documents, who made no gesture in his direction. Jacob Rees-Mogg was already on his feet announcing that parliament would return in April.
So ended one of the most remarkable careers in parliamentary history. He lost two elections in a row, like Neil Kinnock, but his status remains intact and even enhanced. In some parts of the Labour party there’s no victory quite as perfect as failure.