Jeremy Corbyn managed – just – to find someone to sit next to him. He didn’t talk to Tom Watson (who’s gamely riding out the worst post-Glasto comedown conceivable), instead turning his head towards the less dangerous Kate Osamor. He then exchanged a few words with the surely harmless Clive Lewis, and some more with Dennis Skinner. Watson was blanked.
It’s times like this that one thinks of Tony Benn’s take on the Labour Party. The party, philosophised Benn, is like a bird, dependent on both its two wings to fly. The similarities don’t stop there. Both tend to migrate to second homes in sunnier climes over summer, living in comfortable nests far above the general population. And of course both have a tendency to crap on the British public from a great height. But I digress, Benn’s point stands, and right now those two wings couldn’t be further apart.
The Prime Minister’s frontbench was little better. The Chancellor, who has visibly aged by about twelve years since the Referendum result came in, opted to sit this one out having made two whole public appearances since Thursday. Squirrelled away in Number 11, George must have spent the time being consoled by the finest Peruvian imports (a last hurrah before it became an even more costly pastime with the pound crashing).
The session got underway with the House engulfed an eerie silence, gone were the raucous jeers and heckles, replaced by respectful hush while the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition courteously exchanged platitudes. This politeness reached its apotheosis when Corbyn rightly asked “what extra resources will go to communities that have been targeted in those vile racist attacks” in the wake of the referendum. Cameron agreed, and responded sans booming voice and reddening face, that his government would do “Whatever we can do we will do to drive those appalling hate crimes out of our country”.
“I thank the Prime Minister for that answer”, replied the Labour Leader demurely to unprecedented silence throughout the chamber. It is no exaggeration to say that not a single Labour MP made a noise. Each time Corbyn rose, each time he finished speaking, those behind him made not a peep. It was then that it slowly dawned on all watching that, yes, this was it: This was the new, kinder, quieter politics. And all it took was for the Opposition to be thrown into the sort of internecine warfare that makes King Lear look like Teletubbies. Because that’s what politics is at its heart: blood sport.
Such was Cameron’s malaise that it was a good twelve minutes into PMQs before he got his blood up following Corbyn’s analysis of the referendum result. “The vote last Thursday”, opined Corbyn, “was a rejection of the status quo”, going on to pin the blame of Tory austerity that had left “some 4.5 million people in England and Wales in insecure work”. (Although it remained unclear whether the Labour leader included himself in those figures).
Cameron was having none of it, and reminded his opposite number that “we must all reflect on our role in the referendum campaign”. Going on to fire the closing barb that “the Right Honorable Gentleman says that he put his back into it; all I say is that I would hate to see him when he is not trying”. Building on this he remarked that ‘it might be in my party’s interests for him to sit there; but it is not in the national interest. I would say: for heaven’s sake man, go!”. The PM once again doing the Blairites’ bidding.
Corbyn out of the way, the House got back into the swing of a more boisterous politics. Douglas Carswell got up to speak only to be greeted by a volley of boos and hisses. Who knew the House was so firmly behind the Faragist faction of the UKIP conflict? Then Bernard Jenkin rose to ask the PM if he could “take this opportunity to condemn the ridiculous and revolting behaviour of a certain MEP in the European Parliament yesterday and make it clear that that MEP does not represent this country and he does not represent even the vast majority of patriotic and law-abiding people who voted leave in the referendum”. One can only presume he was referring to SNP euro-troffer Alyn Smith’s sacharrine oration to the assembled Brussels bureaucrats, begging them to “not let Scotland down”. As such it came as quite a non-sequitur when the PM responded by babbling on about Nigel Farage.
Alan Duncan then decided now was a good time to take a pop at the man who would most likely be the next Prime Minister, asking the PM if “he would compare the undemonstrative, competence and dignity of Angela Merkel with the theatrical and comical antics of Silvio Borisconi?”. Dave responded with a light hearted anecdote: “I was given lots of advice on becoming Prime Minister”, he remarked wistfully, “and one was not to go to a party with Silvio Berlusconi. That is one piece of advice I took and stuck to”. Thank God! Had he ignored such advice the country could had been plunged into a national scandal about the Prime Minister putting his todger in unspeakable places
Simon Danczuk then rose (yes, he’s still around apparently) and importuned Cameron to support the renovation of Rochdale Town Hall, “described as possessing a rare picturesque beauty”. Come to think of it that’s probably the first time someone’s referred to a big unit in Rochdale as a “picturesque beauty” since Simon last went on WhatsApp.
And, tumescent with self-importance, a few more MPs stood up making their varying pronouncements on the glory of the European Union and Britain’s best future path. The most amusing part of it all was that they appeared to think they were deciding what’s going to happen to the country. None realised that actually the country was deciding what’s going to happen to them.