Outside, a 35-strong fleet of Brexit-backing fishing boats sailed past with Nigel Farage at the helm. The only parallel that springs to mind is the Raid on the Medway during the Second Anglo-Dutch War of 1667 (also in June). Then, Dutch vessels launched a daring campaign that would pave the first steps for the overthrow of King James II. A year later the Bill of Rights was enshrined ensuring the sovereignty of Parliament and an end to its subjugation by overbearing despots, intent on imposing laws on a servile populace. Well, if it worked for them…
Inside, Jeremy Corbyn started poorly and somehow managed to get even worse. The Labour leader wasted his six questions, opting for a scattergun approach that included the posting of workers directive (yes, again, and no, we still don’t care), phone-hacking (for those nostalgic for 2011), having a dig at Boris and Gove (obviously something that would appeal to the PM) and fishing quotas (the sort of subject that really gets your wavering voter going). Corbyn finally managed to get on to the EU referendum in his sixth and final question. “With just eight days to go before the referendum”, he began to uproarious cheers from the Tory benches, “the Labour position is that we are going to be voting to Remain because we believe it is the best way to protect families, protect jobs and protect public services”. Not exactly “I have a dream…” but at least he set out the “Labour position” (although some will have noticed he declined to elaborate on his own position).
Cameron responded by bragging that “when the leader of the Labour party—and, indeed, almost all the Labour party—a Conservative Government, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the official Ulster Unionists and the Scottish National party all say, “We have huge disagreements, but on this vital issue for the future of our country, the best option for Britain is to vote to remain in a reformed European Union,” that really says something”. Chris Grayling seemed to think it said something, because at this point he turned his face to the ground glumly, his visage that of a man who has just had someone pour a cup of steaming urine on his head.
And so Cameron went on to do very much more agreeing about just how much Britain needs the EU. He agreed with the SNP’s Angus Robertson, and concurred with SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell, and heartily agreed with LibDem leader Tim Farron, and of course had no quarrel with Stoke on Trent North MP Ruth Smeeth (Labour) and Swansea East MP Carolyn Harris (also Labour). In fact just about the only people the PM didn’t seem to agree with were the core of his own party and voters, but nevermind them. There was consensus to be had and Dave would be damned if he wouldn’t make the most of it!
Nigel Adams quizzed the PM on whether a vote to leave really will mean leave, in one of the few questions from a Brexiteer. Cameron self-assuredly responded that ““out” means we come out. As the leave campaigners and others have said, “out” means out of the EU, out of the European single market, out of the Council of Ministers, out-”. At this point an SNP MP interrupted to jeer “out of Number Ten!”, which the PM valiantly did his best to ignore.
In this vein, one of the most telling moments came when Kelly Tolhurst’s question about the Thames estuary gave the Prime Minister a chance to reminisce. “Whenever I get a question from my Honourable Friend. I remember how grateful I am that she is representing Rochester and Strood”, he remarked rather less chirpily than usual, before going on to sigh, “happy days, happy days”. Gone was the bombast, and here was a leader aware that his best days really were behind him.
It is with this elegiac thought that I will leave readers. Today could very possibly be the last time we see David Cameron at the Despatch Box answering Prime Minister’s Questions. Well, that is if Nigel’s flotilla sails Johnson and Gove all the way up the Thames to Westminster, and their own Glorious Revolution…