James Forsyth

MPs gave a pantomime response to Ukip at today’s PMQs

MPs gave a pantomime response to Ukip at today's PMQs
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PMQs was always going to be an odd event today. David Cameron is going as Prime Minister and Jeremy Corbyn is trying to survive wave after wave of resignations from his front bench. When Corbyn rose to his feet, there was almost complete silence from the Labour benches—there was the odd chuckle from the Tory one.

The first few exchanges were relatively flat. But then Cameron was clearly riled by Corbyn suggesting that the referendum had been lost because voters didn’t think the status quo was working for them. Cameron swiped back that if the EU referendum was Corbyn putting his back into something, as the Labour leader had claimed, then he ‘would hate to see him when he’s not trying.’ But this was just the warm up. For when Corbyn came back and asked another question, Cameron replied that while it might be in the Tory party’s interest for Corbyn to stay on as Labour leader, it wasn’t in either the national interest or the interests of democracy for him to stay. Cameron then thundered, with feeling, ‘for heaven’s sake man, go.’

Afterwards, the chamber was slightly stunned. It was a powerful moment as Cameron appeared to mean it—it didn’t seem like just another partisan jibe. But, at the moment, Corbyn shows no sign of going. Indeed, he seemed preternaturally calm in the chamber, acting as if nothing had happened.

Alan Duncan, who has long disliked Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, decided to bring the Tory leadership contest into PMQs. He asked Cameron to compare the relative standing of Angela Merkel and Silvio ‘Borisconi’. Cameron kept well out of this fight in reply. But given how prominent a May supporter Duncan is, I’m not sure this jibe was a god strategic move. Undecided Tory MPs want unity and airing the party’s dirty laundry like this in public will not go down well with them.

When Douglas Carswell, Ukip’s only MP, rose to ask a question there was booing and hissing from MPs. Considering that the question was gentle in tone, and about post-referendum reconciliation to boot, this was a disappointing and unconstructive reaction.