It was a masterclass in capitulation, a stunning act of self-slaughter. And yet, in a way, it was pitifully inept. At PMQs, Corbyn behaved like a quicksand victim who sucks in his breath in order to speed his descent.
May arrived at the House in trouble. Her Home Secretary has resigned and the PM has not yet picked her way clear of the Windrush omnishambles. Corbyn seemed unaware that Amber Rudd’s scalp was dangling from his belt and he surrendered the trophy as soon as he opened his mouth. He blamed Windrush on ‘successive home secretaries’. May pounced on this lazy soundbite, and extended its scope:
'Including the last Labour government.'
For mystifying reasons, Corbyn then abandoned Windrush – the biggest home-grown crisis since he became opposition leader – and moved on to the economy. This is far weaker territory for Labour. He tried to capitalise on sluggish growth figures during the late-winter quarter and he asked what the Chancellor’s alternative course was. Incredulous stares were exchanged. ‘The plan-B’ question was back.
Had Corbyn slept through the 2010 -2015 coalition? Every day, for five years, the shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, demanded to know what alternative course the Tories’ had. The result, a Tory majority.
Corbyn’s final own-goal was his stupidest, (or shrewdest if you’re a Tory.) He crowed that council tax is set to rise by ‘five per cent across the country.’
Rising council tax is a favourite Conservative gloating-point. And Tory schadenfreude is at its most intense in south-west London, on the Wandsworth-Lambeth frontier. In Tory-led Wandsworth a typical house-holder pays £700 a year. Hop across the road into Labour-led Lambeth and the bill doubles. May pointed this out with barely restrained delight. Her air of invincibility was reinforced by a wraparound coat-dress of piercing cobalt blue which gave her the look of a lightning bolt.
Peter Bone suggested raising a statue to ‘the Brexit Queen’ in his constituency.
‘How can I refuse?’ she smirked uncomfortably.
No wonder she looked uneasy. Bone’s well-intentioned compliment is problematic. Statues are only raised to politicians who have demonstrably exhausted their usefulness by dying.
Ian Blackford, of the SNP, made a useful intervention for once. It’s amazing that an MP who clearly enjoys a second helping of pud has such a dour and puritanical outlook. He claims to have found 120,000 undocumented children who are being asked to buy work permits at £1,000 a time. Citizens forced to purchase their own freedom from the government are effectively government property. Which puts the Crown in breach of its own anti-slavery legislation.
Blackford failed to spot this legal nicety. But since he has no purpose in life other than to produce some noise at 12.17 every Wednesday, like a practice fire-alarm, he’ll probably revisit the issue.
Two backbenchers asked for apologies on behalf of constituents let down by late ambulances. One was a heart attack the other was a head injury. Joanna Cherry, of the SNP, wanted the PM to apologise on behalf of Generation Windrush.
‘A public apology!’ she insisted.
‘She’s apologised,’ yodelled the Tories.
‘A public apology!’ Cherry repeated, cranking up the outboard motor.
‘She’s already apologised!’ they barracked.
‘A public apology!’ she cried, close to boiling point.
Finally it became clear. Cherry wanted the PM to apologise to Cherry.