Sketch: Cameron is Doing What Blair Did to IDS

No, no, no, that wasn’t quite good, or a refreshing change, or a worthy start, or not-as-bad-as-it-might-have-been. That was the finishing whimper of a once-powerful party. That was worse than Ed Miliband’s first PMQs. It was as bad as late-Miliband’s “I met Nigel, a nurse from Nottingham.”

Dressed in the 1970s, looking old, wading to the despatch box through a vision of immiserated Britain – mental health cuts, in-work benefit cuts, rent cuts, job losses – Corbyn gave us a comprehensive tour of his constituency. Life at the rougher end of Holloway, as Damian McBride so valiantly pointed out, but on a national scale.

You will have heard by now that Corbyn’s innovation was to read out half a dozen questions emailed in from supporters. He wanted to be our “voice” in Parliament. Some people say they liked it. But there was wincing in the PLP every time he deployed a Christian name.

He sounded like an intermediary, not a leader. Like a quiz master. A host.

And surely he won’t be able to do it again, and again?

Go on, I dare you.

And of course, the phone-in format allowed Cameron dominion over the chamber. He welcomed the proposal for serious conversation. He answered earnestly and carefully, using those winning words that only winners can: “I agree. We can work together on that. She is right to say.

He also popped in some sunshine. Lower taxes. Strong economy. The North East produces more cars than Italy.

“It wasn’t Cameron on the ropes, it was Cameron in a hammock,” one Labour MP said.

Cameron is doing what Blair did to IDS and to Michel Howard. Played his opponents in for some weeks before going in for the kill.

The baiting was done sideways. A question about the Battle of Britain pilots got an answer that didn’t mention the opposition leader, but everyone filled in that absence in their own way.

Corbyn then stood up and talked at unusual length about his own victory, his campaign, his plans for a less theatrical PMQs.

A leader would have at least have acknowledged the Battle of Britain tribute. Those pilots and ground crew. When Britain stood alone, as the PM had said.

But it was the Nigel Dodds question that put the Labour leadership into context.

He remarked on the plaques put up to commemorate those murdered by the IRA. Neave. Bradford. Gow. Berry. And then referred to a shadow chancellor who felt terrorists should be honoured.

There were cries of “Shame” from Tories, but muted as they realised this was too big a point for formulaic displays of disapproval. How they applauded the “bravery of our armed forces”, without having to jeer at the beige pacifism of Labour’s leader.

When Cameron addressed himself to valorising of the IRA, he quietly threw away his line, “they should be ashamed of themselves” – Labour felt it.

And, my guess is, they were ashamed.

The party is now going through the five stages of grief, with some MPs experiencing all five stages at once. Their leader’s performance today can only have accelerated the process towards acceptance, resignation and final, possibly eternal, peace.




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Quote of the Day

Sky’s Faisal Islam on the mood in Parliament at the moment:

“It’s a totally febrile atmosphere here. It’s kind of like Game of Thrones meets House of Cards – and if you chuck in the Labour Party – Laurel and Hardy too.”

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