PMQs SKETCH: Corbyn Goes From Angry Chicken to Sick Chicken mdi-fullscreen


The stare isn’t going so well suddenly. It never worked, it only seemed to, with the Tories falling back in embarrassment. Corbyn read this as bullies being struck with silent wonder at the sight of proper, grown-up politics.

No, it was the reaction of an audience seeing an actor forgetting his lines, or a juggler dropping the ball, or a magician letting the cards fall out of his sleeve.

Tories weren’t able to barrack and wince at the same time.

But they’ve learnt. They have evolved. Today, they overcame their instinctive delicacy and resumed normal service.

And Corbyn went from Angry Chicken to Sick Chicken. Starting to speak, then stopping. Glaring, but getting confused by laughter and not-glaring. Glancing at the Speaker. No help there. Starting to speak again and having to continue through Tories shushing each other.

This chicken dies in the end.

Older readers will remember Simon Hughes waiting for silence amid increasingly incredulous laughter. Betty Boothroyd eventually intervened, but not on his side. “Spit it out!” she rasped. “Get on with it!”

Some are saying that Corbyn is doing all right at PMQs, he’s holding his own. That is true insofar as you compare him with Ed Miliband. Corbyn has age on his side. He’s not a Westminster bubble-boy. The things he advocates are part of his character rather than a retail offer that will work on the doorstep.

But it’s all downhill after that.

His emails from Keith and Kelly and Kevin may be better than Ed Miliband’s “I met a nurse in Nottingham” – but they’re only just better.

Corbyn knows Cameron’s answer on tax credits (he’s heard it often enough), he could take the Prime Minister’s answer apart if he knew people who genuinely wouldn’t benefit from the range of replacement benefits Cameron cites. Maybe there aren’t such people.

To reprise his “six unanswered questions” from last week was a fool’s errand. The Lords had knocked the Bill back, it was all up in the air again, the new proposals would be revealed in the Autumn statement, Cameron hardly had to stir himself. He is Blair against IDS. Though Cameron’s no Blair, and goodness knows IDS looks like a Kennedy next to Corbyn.

And for the record, let us not forget the single worst question to the prime minister ever asked. “Which is rising faster – NHS waiting times or NHS deficits?”

What, on a triple-indexed graph with minutes on the X axis, pounds on the Y and suffering humanity along the bottom? There is no answer to that in words.

But more ominously, perhaps, his seventh tax credit question was asked on behalf of a private soldier. It’s not the first time Corbyn has made an attempt on his “image”. He made an I Love England expedition recently. That sort of thing will undo him, if he lets it.

Cameron walloped him about over the soldier’s tax credits. That Corbyn wanted to abolish the Army. That under a Corbyn government the soldier wouldn’t even have a job.

The Tories erupted again, on several levels. Their barracking is turned down on the TV sound system, the public couldn’t really understand why the old gent was stopping. Looking around for his carer, while the parliamentary mob boiled and seethed around him.

The Sickening Chicken routine took up a minute or so. The Speaker added over 10 minutes to the half hour, as punishment. “It’s getting longer and longer,” Cameron said, passing the microphones at the end.

And jolly good too, he might have thought. Exposure doesn’t do this Opposition any good at all.

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