Those who still vaunt Jeremy Corbyn’s pacifism might take a moment to consider that the only thing keeping the Labour leader hanging on these past few days has been his steadfast desire to run Tony Blair through with a rusty bayonet (courtesy of Sir John Chilcot). It was a heady mix of spite and righteous indignation that sustained Jezza through this week’s endless barrage of condemnation and resignations. Though mortally wounded, he did not falter, limping valiantly on to the Iraq Inquiry debate in the Commons this afternoon.
Some PMQs hilarity before the Chilcot solemnity. The Prime Minister lauded Corbyn’s rotating frontbench as the “biggest job-creation scheme I have ever seen in my life”. The fact that the Tories were themselves split and would also have a new frontbench soon did not matter. This was demob-happy Dave, blissfully firing off a few shots without a care in the world before packing up for sunnier climes. In this same spirit he later admonished a particularly moany group of heckling Picts to stop “whinging endlessly”. A somewhat cruel admonishment considering how intrinsic such an activity is to being an SNP MP, but the message was clear: no longer did Cameron care to sugar (or batter in this case) the pill.
In fact so ready is the man to depart office that when quizzed on Southend by David Amess he dropped all pretence of desire to visit. “Although Hull is the official city of culture next year”, drawled Cameron, gleefully rattling off another sink town he’d never have to go to, “I am sure that Southend will benefit from the tireless campaign that he has run”. The PM then finished with a smirk, and read verbatim from his notes without even feigning sincerity that he would be “encouraging people to go and see this excellent seaside town for themselves”. And if you believe that you’ll believe anything. In fact one expects the only chippy seaside resort Dave will trouble himself with from now on is Cannes.
PMQs done with, Corbyn steeled himself for what was surely the highlight of his career. As he stood to speak, one couldn’t help but draw to mind Russell Crowe in Gladiator, summoning up just enough life to kill the bloodthirsty Emperor that had corrupted the nation’s political life. In fact so gladiatorial was Jeremy’s animus that one could be forgiven for expecting him to stroll armoured to the despatch box and exclaim: “My name is Jezzimus Momentus Corbinius. Commander of the Legions of North London. Loyal servant to the true emperor Michaelus Footus. Leader to a murdered party. Owner to a mocked cat. And I will have my vengeance. In this life or the next”.
Apart from there was one minor snag: Blair was absent. Corbyn handily got round this by focusing his anger on his heir instead – luckily a role Cameron was all too happy to take up. So the PM defended the special relationship, the intelligence community, and the validity of future military intervention, his speech reaching a crescendo when he boomed that “it would be wrong to conclude that we shouldn’t stand with our American allies when our common security interests are threatened” to solemn echoes of “hear, hear”, throughout the House.
In response the Labour Leader railed against the cosy links between the British and American Governments, instead vaunting the need to recognise henceforth the “authority of the United Nations in matters of war”, because the“UN always seeks peaceful solutions”. Well yes, and such “peaceful solutions” (read: prolonged inaction), is exactly why governments tend not to rely on the UN.
Nonetheless, Corbyn went on to make some valid points on a lack of public support for the war, and his speech was undoubtedly well delivered and researched. “If only”, many sitting behind him must have thought, “he was similarly adept at attacking the current Government”. It was thus unfortunate that the embattled Labour leader closed one his most pointed arguments with the remark that “the occupation fostered a lethal sectarianism that turned into a civil war”. Behind him the Labour benches sighed in weary recognition of an all-too-familiar phenomenon…