Jeremy Corbyn has stopped asking questions at PMQs. The lecture-circuit now looms for the Labour leader, so he uses the Wednesday sessions to practise the Grand Orations he will soon be making to drowsy socialists in overheated conference-halls around the world. He’s unlikely to match the fees commanded by the world’s top lecture-stars, Tony Blair and Barack Obama. His performance lacks bounce or crackle. He’s incapable channelling either passion or excitement and he simply recites his bullet-points like a sleep-deprived Bingo-caller. And his jokes misfire.
Today he opened with a gag about the presenter of Just A Minute who died yesterday, aged 96.
‘Mr Speaker,’ said Corbyn, ‘can we take a minute to pay tribute to Nicholas Parsons.’
‘Take a minute’. Just A Minute. Rather a macabre pun. But Corbyn gave no hint he was making a joke so it flopped. Lucky for him. The meat of his oration contained stuff like this:
‘We are leaving the EU and the actions we take over the months and years ahead will shape our future role within the international community for years to come.’
More exciting statements have been made by teenage beginners at the Youth Parliament. Corbyn enlarged on ‘the climate emergency’ and predicted that the government would reach its net-zero emissions target, ‘not by 2050 but by 2099.’
‘Can we afford to wait another 79 years?’ he said, as if suggesting that half a century is a period of just under eight decades. Maybe Diane Abbott wrote that bit for him.
He performed a mini-tour of the Middle East, highlighting the most divisive issues: the US peace-plan, the conflict in Yemen, the mistreatment of female detainees in Saudi Arabia. Then he scuttled back to his favourite topic, the prospect of a US/UK trade deal. He called it ‘a sell-out trade deal with Donald Trump’ even though the talks haven’t yet begun.
‘As foreign secretary, [the Prime Minister] embarrassed his country, now he’s prepared to sell it off.’
Really? Boris is going to flog Britain on eBay? Where did Corbyn get that from? As he sat down, a deep voice sounded from within the Tory ranks.
‘Thank God he’s going.’
True. But spare a thought for the audiences who must endure the long, grinding Corbo-logues of the future.
An undead phantom haunted today’s proceedings. The HS2 rail-line dwells in a twilight world somewhere between life and death. Kevin Hollinrake mentioned it first. He’s a supporter.
‘No no no!’ howled the Tories like anguished toddlers deprived of their teddies.
Boris’s reply was deliberately ambiguous. He clearly relishes the fact that the decision to kill or save this ravening child-of-Frankenstein lies with him alone.
‘We are looking into whether and how to proceed with HS2,’ he smirked. ‘The house can expect an announcement shortly.’
Same thing happened when Paul Howell, for Sedgefield, endorsed the project. Boris’s face was wreathed in happy-bunny smiles as he teased MPs again.
‘We will make an announcement on HS2 very shortly – if he can contain his impatience a little bit longer.’
Kieran Mullan ordered Boris to ‘get HS2 done’ The PM leaped up, giggling and almost dancing at the despatch-box.
‘May I reassure all my honourable friends about HS2... There will be a decision very shortly.’
Seasoned Boris-watchers won’t be gulled by this display of uncertainty. His enthusiasm for Big Lego projects is well established. So is his relish for a challenge, (particularly one in which he must defeat the defeatists). Add to that his excitable demeanour today and the conclusion is obvious. He’ll set the choo-choos running. HS2 is on.