David Cameron had good cause to enter the Chamber even more rosy cheeked than usual today. Yesterday video was leaked of him chin-wagging with the Queen at a Buckingham Palace Reception. “We’ve got some leaders of some fantastically corrupt countries coming to Britain”, he said ironically, going on to highlight “Nigeria and Afghanistan, possibly the two most corrupt countries in the world”. At this point the Archbishop of Canterbury felt impelled to interject, soberly reminding the PM that “this particular President is actually not corrupt. He’s trying very hard”. That put an immediate stop to the joking, and all stood silent, no doubt thinking “Good God lighten up man, no need to get on your high horse about it”. That’s the problem with Archbishops you see, they can get a bit pious. Luckily Speaker Bercow was on hand to sarcastically inquire, “They are coming at their own expense, I would assume?” The PM chuckled, and banter was resumed.
This is the real David Cameron. Droll, sardonic, and not afraid to make a politically incorrect joke that winds up an Archbishop. It’s a completely different figure to the artificial one we see every week in PMQs: his stab at the “socially liberal nice guy” persona which resembles not so much a man as a string of focus groups welded together into a vaguely humanoid shape.
And so onto proceedings. Corbyn began by wishing Sir David Attenborough a happy birthday (a card would have done, but hopefully he was watching) before trying to press his opposite number on the EU. The PM didn’t want to talk about that and so instead whiled away the time praising the filmmaker before examining the intricacies of the Boaty McBoatface saga. “I think the submarine on the boat will be named Boaty McBoatface”, he concluded, “but, quite rightly, Attenborough will take top billing”. He then dodged Corbyn’s question on the Posting of Workers Directive (whatever that is) before getting down to the important business of vaunting his progressive credentials. “The best thing that we can do for workers’ rights in this country”, he boomed, “is to celebrate the national living wage, introduced by a Tory Government”.
Corbyn didn’t buy it, but that was beside the point. Cameron wanted to stress just how right-on a leader he is,. That’s why he came back to the policy another two times, finishing with the plea across the despatch box that he “hopes that…on the issue of the national living wage, we can find some agreement between us”. Why does the leader of a Conservative Government want to find an agreement on wage policy with a socialist you may ask? Well because it makes him look kind and caring, and more importantly sends out just the right signals to the left-leaning voters he wants to bring into the Tory fold.
It was in this vein that the PM responded when he finally got round to answering Corbyn’s repeated questions on the EU. He was keen to agree with the Labour leader’s slating of Eurosceptic economist Patrick Minford. Taken aback, Corbyn hit him on EU proposals on country by country tax-reporting in relation to crown dependencies, yet again Cameron agreed, this time stressing the need for a supranational body to intervene in fiscal policy. He concluded that “the only area of disagreement, I suspect, between the right hon. Gentleman and myself is that I do not think we should set a minimum tax rate for these countries”. Some might have hoped for rather more disagreement between a Conservative Prime Minister and a far-left manhole enthusiast.
Perhaps the ultimate example of Cameron’s desperate attempt to ingratiate himself with the Left was when Angus Robertson, having come off a two-week bender of PMQ’s refugee virtue-signalling, pressed the him on the need to stop those overseas hiding their “ill-gotten gains” in London. The PM eagerly nodded his head, pledging to “make sure that plundered money from African countries cannot be hidden in London”. A nice little line that he presumably picked up from the good burghers of the Rhodes Must Fall campaign, or perhaps from a Postcolonial Studies Masters for which he’s studying in his spare time. By now the PM was comfortably a million miles away from gags about the Nigerians being a bit dodgy.
Proceedings were drawn to a close by Tim Farron, who was subjected to such a barrage of sedentary chuntering that the Speaker had to intervene. “However irritating the Honorable Gentleman may be”, he paused for laughs before clarifying, “to Government Back Benchers, he has a right to be heard and will be heard”. Of course the Speaker himself could never be accused of being an irritant and so he was on perfectly solid ground here. Having been humiliated in front of the House once, Farron went on to castigate the PM for his hand in the “racist” Tory Mayoral campaign. Not missing a beat, Cameron responded sarcastically that it was “a great way to end the session – getting a lesson in clean campaigning from the Liberal Democrats”. Funny, although I must admit I preferred his one about the Nigerian, the Afghan and the Englishman walking into a anti-corruption summit.