If you’re wondering why this week’s PMQs felt a bit odd it’s because this is the first time in a year that the Tories have been in a pickle and the attention hasn’t been on Jeremy Corbyn managing to create an even worse crisis in the Labour Party. And yet where is the praise for Jez for not cocking everything up for one solitary week? Nowhere. You know why? That’s because it’s rigged. The whole thing folks. The crooked pollsters, the lying media: the BBC, ITV, The Guardian – all in on it, and bigly too. It’s a tremendous shame. Sad folks! So sad!
Instead this week everyone’s been talking about just how Theresa May manages to successfully sidestep so many direct questions about Brexit. The good people at the University of York have decided she does it by opting to give a “non-specific response to a specific question”: in other words her interlocutor asks her about staying in the single market and she brilliantly counters that we need “to make sure the UK gets the best possible trade deal”. Of course the eggheads are wrong, and this is nonsense.
Were Theresa May to simply do the above any interviewer worth their salt would see straight through it. What she actually does is bore her opposite number to death for a good few minutes before then closing with a suitably vague statement, by which time the questioner has had so much of the life force sapped out of them that they don’t bother following it up. Throw in a good dose of earnest school-marminess and your average middle-aged adversary finds himself sedated, mind wandering back to languid summer afternoons standing outside the classroom getting a dressing down by the sincere yet well impeccably turned out and inexplicably racy headmistress. Ah, those were the days…
It was on display today in PMQs of course. So we had a meandering rant followed by the revelation that “Brexit means we’re getting out of the European Union”. A similar rambling equivocation capped off with the declaration that “Saudi Arabia is of considerable importance to our national security”. Even when compared – rather funnily – by the Labour Leader to Blackadder’s hapless Baldrick, May digressed before responding bizarrely that “the actor playing Baldrick was a member of the Labour Party I recall”. The operative words here being “actor playing”. It’s often claimed that British political discourse is more enlightened than our American cousins, but I don’t seem to remember any Californian Democrats damning the previous Governor of that state for his past as a vengeful robot.
Thankfully for the PM however most of the House was far more concerned with issues of international import than the tricky domestic questions. So today we had inquiries on the Kurdish Peshmerga, the Kashmir conflict, and those beastly child-killing Ruskies (It turns out Sting was wrong, as it happens, and they don’t love children too). It says a lot of the complete Corbynisation of political life that were aliens (of the extra-terrestrial kind) to land in Parliament they would be forgiven for thinking they were witnessing a United Nations summit or a foreign policy advisory forum featuring a range of delegates from Gaza and the occupied territories. We have a whole generation of MPs than are more concerned with Latin America than Lancaster, and spend more time in Caracas than Caerphilly.
Of course even the Calais child refugees (who deserve credit for innovating the English language in their attempts to redefine both the words “children” and “refugees”) got a mention. But only to be praised by the Labour leader. A better opponent would have noted how farcical it is that illegal immigration is even a political topic in this country, considering God decided 10,000 years ago to give us our own handy inbuilt moat to ward off the French (thanks God).
Having vented their liberal spleens sufficiently on foreign policy, the House now moved on to mental health, which they demanded should receive parity of esteem with physical ailments. It sounds reasonable too, until you realise that it means some poor fellow’s delayed toe amputation turns into a leg amputation and then finally being sawed in two just below the belly button because someone else is having a bit of a cry and therefore deserves priority. Naturally interventions made on this topic were borderline hysterical (special congratulations go to wailing Luciana Berger), with one even making reference to a personal tragedy. Here we see in action the gradual X-Factorisation of politics: supply a sob story to turn a political debate into an emotional one so that anyone that challenges you can be accused of meanspiritdness and just being plain nasty.
The highlight of the afternoon however came from Jeremy Corbyn, with the stalwart evangelist for the financial sector noting that the PM’s pal, “the Member for Broxtowe (that’s Super Soubs to me and you) expressed concern about the automotive and aerospace industries, while the British Bankers Association said that its members’s hands are quivering over the relocate button”. Such talk of quivering members saw Anna Soubry begin to chuckle on the backbenches. She shouldn’t: these inept Remainers are your people now Anna, you best get used to them.