Today we saw government without opposition. At least without opposition in the hands of the Opposition leader. Rambling, disorganised Jeremy Corbyn spent his six questions getting nowhere over the health service. Familiar catcalls were heard on both sides. ‘You wasted billions.’ ‘No we invested billions.’ Mrs May attempted to break the record-book by insisted that ‘half a trillion’ will be spent on health during this parliament.
Corbyn’s backbenchers took up the cause. The Labour party is teeming with broken princes and queens-across-the-water who spend their time brooding, and muttering, and plotting their route back to power. Any chance to expose Corbyn as a waffling nuisance is happily seized.
Lisa Nandy lobbed a carefully-worded challenge at Mrs May over her handling of the child sex abuse enquiry. Since April this shambles has worked through more bosses than the England football team.
Jamie Reed begged the PM to prevent doctors being sacked at his local hospital as their removal may endanger lives.
Lucy Powell used a killer-statistic to undermine Mrs May’s plan to revive grammar schools. Another sitter missed by Corbyn.
Stephen Pound urged the PM to support community pharmacies and she referred him straight back to his leader’s policy: nationalise them. Corbyn at this point was languishing sideways, head-in-air, studying an interesting cobweb as if he were a museum orderly waiting to go off-shift. Has he even heard of community pharmacies?
Maria Eagle’s postbag bulges with letters from distressed beneficiaries of tax-credits. The system is descending into farce because the rules award money to cohabiting couples at a different rate from celibates. And the officials, perhaps a little bored with their work, like to imagine that everyone living at a single address is embroiled in a non-stop polyamorous orgy. Siblings are accused of incestuous couplings. Offspring are denounced for sleeping with their parents. Long-departed tenants are accused of seducing the present occupants, even though the alleged play-mates have never met. And the so-called perpetrators of these X-rated frolics are forced to provide evidence that they lead lives of Augustinian continence. Another disaster that Corbyn overlooked.
Andy Burnham had a go too. He’d chosen a pair of natty black spectacles, like Clarke Kent, to give him an air of inexhaustible power. Unfortunately he looks like a PE teacher about to burst into tears because he can’t find his whistle. He asked why families bereaved in the Birmingham pub bombings have received no funds to hire lawyers at the forthcoming inquests. He was told that the application hadn’t been processed
Finally Ken Clarke rose to his feet. Dear old Ken. The ample girth, the fire-side twinkle, the purring, reassuring voice. He’s turning into a Lewis Carrol figure, like an ancient and very civilised bumble-bee wearing a suit that’s three sizes too big. But behind the cuddly demeanour Clarke’s words were vicious. The PM was wrong, he said, to conceal her negotiating stance on Europe. And the three ministers running Brexit were guilty of press-leaks and attacks on their colleagues. In other words, Mrs May is an ass running a cabinet full of hooligans.
A picture emerged, very slowly, of a faltering and disunited government barely able to enumerate, let alone to extinguish, the bushfires approaching it on many fronts.
And all this passed Jeremy Corbyn by. He was content to fling dust at the Tory health reforms knowing that Mrs May would torpedo him in six syllables. ‘Labour, NHS, Wales’.
Which she did.