Oh how the mighty have fallen. Just a few short days ago the Prime Minister was sharing a platform with the leader of the Free World. They opined solemnly on lofty notions of freedom and international cooperation. On Churchill and Martin Luther King. On America and Britain, and the intertwined fates of our two great nations.
To understand David Cameron is to understand that it is at this higher plane of existence that he feels most comfortable operating. The man was built to sit in the back of a Jag, travelling in full motorcade trailing the President’s armoured car as chopper blades whirr overhead and cameras flash from the pavement. Right at the centre of global geo-politics, and far away from the little people with their bad haircuts and cheap suits, their uncouth views and pedestrian concerns. Further away still from a shabbily dressed old Trot and the provincial monotony of PMQs.
And so unto proceedings. Both sides of the House were quick to commemorate the 96 who died at Hillsborough, a topic the PM no doubt found close to his heart as a keen follower of the game and ardent supporter of Aston Villa (or was it West Ham?). The solemnities out the way, Corbyn began by attacking on academies.
And so Cameron was quick to tell Labour MPs to “simmer down” when they heckled him, an annoyance that he’d usually calmly rise above. In fact so irked was he that he went completely off-topic to reprimand Labour MPs. “Perhaps if you could deal with the anti-semites with your own party”, he boomed, “we’d all be prepared to listen to you a bit more”. He finished by remarking ominously that “maybe we’ll come onto that”, very much in the fashion of an angry parent bringing up in the heat of a moment a bollocking that they’d saved for later.
Continuing with this tack of treating the opposite benches like naughty toddlers, he responded to another batch of heckling with a patronising warning that “if you shout, you won’t hear the answer”, eyes flashing with rage. The anger boiled over completely a few minutes later when the PM had to face yet a further round of jeering, this time from Chris Bryant, himself rumoured to have designs on the Speaker’s chair. “Look, if you want to be Speaker”, Cameron shot back, veins by now popping out of his domey forehead, “you better stop interrupting everybody. It’s not going to get you any votes. Little tip for you there”. Cameron had by now completely lost it, and any allusion of him as the cool-as-a-cucumber smoothie who rises above petty animosities was decisively shattered. (On a side-note, this was unusually one of the few times Chris Bryant hasn’t enjoyed having an overly-excited man offering him his tip).
Such was Cameron’s anger at having to be faced with this bunch of decidedly unglamorous and thoroughly mediocre politicians that he at one point began to ruminate on his past foes across the despatch box. Responding to Corbyn’s question on “a pattern developing” in the joint protests of doctors and teachers against Tory proposals, Cameron replied: “I’ll you the pattern that’s developing…I’m on my fifth Labour Leader and if he carries on like this I’ll soon be on my sixth”.
For those wondering, in chronological order those five leaders are Blair, Brown, Harman, Milliband and Corbyn. Which is perhaps the most succinct summary of the decline of professional politics in the Labour Party that one could write. Indeed if that trend continues one can only assume the next leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition will be either George Galloway or Malia Bouattia.
In fact so dismal is the Labour leader’s performance generally that he managed to spend his six questions both last week and today asking the PM about academies without once scoring a big hit. Cameron had a bit of fun with this, telling Corbyn that he “likes repeats on television”, and was “very happy to have them in the House as well”. Corbyn immediately reassured those concerned that his earlier snappy riposte about rockets had indicated a new, wittier, Jeremy by responding that “the Prime Minister will be aware that sometimes repeats get more viewers than the first time round”. From this bizarre attempt at a comeback one can only conclude that Jeremy sees his PMQs outings as akin to a late 90s episode of Friends on E4. In reality it’s more like Robot Wars on UK Gold, watching as an amateur pits his plucky little creation covered in gaffer tape against Matilda or Sergeant Bash, only to have it smashed to pieces within seconds. “And would you look at that”, shouts Craig Charles in guttural scouse, “Team Labour Party’s been absolutely destroyed today”.
The main battle thus finished, Angus Robertson asked about the refugees, going on to use the Holocaust to justify increasing the amount taken. Perhaps somewhere in the chamber the irony of using such an event to argue for the increased migration to Europe of individuals who might not be the most friendly towards the Jewish people might have registered, but it was certainly lost on Robertson. As a man he doesn’t so much look deep in thought as deep in thought as to where his next pork pie is coming from. In fact when placed diagonally to Cameron in the chamber his main purpose is to illustrate how to not attempt the noble art of the combover. Yvette Cooper piped up to further talk about refugees and “survival sex”, which I think is what her long-suffering husband Ed calls his few brief stolen moments of joy by the blue light of the computer screen in the dead of night. I couldn’t be sure because I was too busy contemplating just how many refugees she must have living in her home to warrant the amount of incessant virtue signalling she does on the issue. When stuff all got a bit boisterous Bercow implored the House to remember that “this is a home of free speech”. As long as you don’t mention Elton John or David Furnish that is…
Perhaps the most amusing exchange was between Ben Bradshaw and the PM. The Labour MP inquired about whether or not on the EU we should listen to “a combination of French fascists, Vladimir Putin” and “Nigel Farrij”, pronounced to rhyme with garij. The PM enjoyed this, congratulating Bradshaw on taking “the English pronounciation of Farage rather than the rather poncey, foreign sounding one that he seems to prefer”. Bradshaw’s no Obama, but it was clear to see the PM enjoyed the friendly banter back and forth across the chamber, redolent of a better time where he could respect his opponents, and keep alive the illusion of himself as a serious politician, and the House as a serious chamber of debate.