Be not afeard; the House is full of noises. Given the recent floods, the Prime Minister avoided quoting The Tempest as the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death was expropriated to ridicule the Shadow Cabinet reshuffle omnishambles: “It looked like this reshuffle could go into its Twelth Night.” “A comedy of errors!” “Much ado about nothing!” “Love’s Labour’s Lost!”.
There had clearly been advanced planning. The Shakespeare question came from the friendly backbench MP for Stratford-upon-Avon, Nadhim Zahawi, who commended “our greatest living bard”. (Eh?) It’s customary to groan at the crassness of the jokes, but a more sophisticated version would not really work. Sir Bruce Forsyth enjoys watching PMQs regarding it as “pure vaudeville”. I find it oddly comforting that senior Downing Street operatives will have spent this morning deliberating over Shakespearean puns.
Oddly, the Labour MPs did not respond with “All’s Well that Ends Well” – I suppose the resignations mean the reshuffle is still a work in progress. Dennis Skinner looked as if he was about to be sick. Later a Labour MP did rally enough to call for a Shakespeare theatre in Knowsley where A Midsummer Night’s Dream was written.
Less fun was on offer from Jeremy Corbyn – who, as John McTernan cruelly observed, has declined from being like a geography teacher to a supply teacher. All his questions were about floods. Conventionally a Labour opposition leader would have asked something about Tory splits on the EU referendum, but these are not conventional times. Thus a tsunami of worthy tedium related to the weather.
The general thrust was that more spending is the answer. There has been more spending, replied Cameron. There was some back and forth on this theme. No consideration as to whether the Environment Agency had been using its vast budget effectively. “Chris and Victoria’s home was flooded over Christmas,” said Corbyn. “It wasn’t very funny for them,” added the supply teacher with his disappointed look at the unruly class. “They lost many of their possessions – photos, children, toys…” he added stumbling through his script. What Chris and Victoria desperately need is a “co-ordinated cross party approach to flooding.” The Labour MP for Redcar, Anna Turley, wearing a nightdress, later returned to theme asking about cuts.
Kevin Brennan, the Labour MP for Cardiff West, has spotted that Osborne rather than Cameron is the right target for his Party. He asked about a “42% pay increase for the Chancellor’s own personal image consultant”. It seems poor value for money. Osborne looked dazed in response as if he was on drugs. He needs to work at appearing indifferent.
Tory MP Stewart Jackson asked about how Emily Thornberry, the new Shadow Defence Secretary, “has seen fit to take a donation from the immoral, thieving, ambulance chasing lawyers Leigh Day who together with public interest lawyers specialise in hounding our brave service personnel in Iraq with spurious claims.” Tell us what you really think of them, Stewart.
Cameron didn’t particularly shine. At one stage he talked about junior doctors working “many less hours” – were those fees to Eton completely wasted. But then Cameron didn’t need to shine.
This was another day in the slow excruciating death of the Labour Party. Their Leader did not even really try. He poured tedium on proceedings as many Tory MPs lost the will to heckle. Labour MPs looked helpless. Full fathom five their leader lies.