Lloyd Evans

Theresa May makes it an unhappy birthday for Dennis Skinner

Theresa May makes it an unhappy birthday for Dennis Skinner
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The S-bomb landed on PMQs this afternoon. Suffragettes. Exactly a century and a day has passed since parliament granted women the vote. Mrs May was honouring the occasion when she heard – or pretended to hear – Labour sisters shouting ‘some women.’

‘Some?’ she said. ‘Yes universal suffrage did come in, ten years later, under a Conservative government.’ A good hit. Quite probably she faked the ‘some women’ heckle.

We got a lecture from moany, droney Jeremy Corbyn who wore a pained expression like a vegan bishop. ‘We should understand that our rights come from the activities of ordinary people doing extraordinary things to bring about democracy and justice.’

It takes an odd talent to make liberty sound as dull as cold pancakes.

Mrs May declined to make the obvious boast – ‘I’m Britain’s second female prime minister’ – and instead she told a story from her childhood. She was taught about the women’s struggle by ‘my late godmother, whose mother was a suffragette, and knew the Pankhursts.’

She laid down a strategic marker by referring explicitly to the shadow chancellor’s jibe about ‘lynching’ Esther McVey. The PM is doubtless aware that women are reportedly deserting Labour in droves. She chose today to highlight the sexism in its upper ranks.

Glasgow's SNP MP, Alison Thewliss, asked about a jobless constituent with medical problems. She has metal pins in her leg, blood clots in her lung, and COPD. This unfortunate woman left hospital last Friday and took a cab to the Job Centre which was closed. Ms Thewliss blamed ‘government cuts’. Every detail of this story is harsh and unfair. But so is life. However, Ms Thewliss sought redress and she itemised her demands in detail. She asked twice for an apology from Mrs May, and she applied for her constituent’s £10 taxi fare to be repaid.

The question implies that the welfare system is more than just a safety-net, it’s a bespoke concierge service backed by the prime minister’s personal guarantee.

That said, Mrs May was tactless in her answer. She needs to increase her vote in Scotland but she seems unaware that her costume-drama accent and her patrician manner – duchess-opens-work-house-for-lucky-orphans – will sound awful north of the border. She offered a smug reply which started with the Royal We. ‘Yes, we are seeing some job centres being closed in Scotland,’ she drawled, as if discussing a downturn in pheasant numbers. ‘But we will not see any reduction in the level of service.’ Seriously? A job centre closes without reducing ‘the level of service’?

Speaker Bercow called Dennis Skinner, who turns 86 this weekend, and congratulated him on the coming mile-stone. To everyone’s surprise, Skinner repudiated his flatterer. ‘I don’t know about that,’ he growled, eliciting a laugh. ‘I don’t celebrate things like that. I don’t think you should celebrate age.’

Labour's Dennis Skinner says NHS staff reckon the best period they saw was 1997- 2010 and called on the government to "get weaving"@theresa_may said Labour was able to spend more because the Conservatives "left a golden economic legacy" #PMQs pic.twitter.com/UGMNbNhFna

— BBC Daily Politics and Sunday Politics (@daily_politics) February 7, 2018

On Planet Skinner perhaps they celebrate the opposite: premature death. Poor sad Dennis. He hates Happy and he hates Birthday. What does he like? Well, he likes taxes, as he pointed out, especially if they’re targeted at the only thing he genuinely likes, the NHS. He recalled a ‘golden period’ following 1997 when health spending trebled thanks to a rise in National Insurance. The author of this monumental tax-grab was ‘the chancellor’, he said. He meant Gordon Brown but he declined to name him, perhaps because he hates the former PM as much as he hates most other things.

He urged Mrs May to lavish similar riches on the NHS. She smiled, as if to a charming urchin.

'Happy birthday, Dennis.’

He hated that.