Before we get to the disaster that was the Autumn Statement, first PMQs. Not one to break with tradition, Jeremy Corbyn continued to question the Prime Minister in the manner of a tramp freshly whisked out of the gutter, chucked into a suit and given a hastily cobbled together sheet to read from. Barely glancing up from his notes while rattling off a list of uninspiring figures, the Labour leader happily wasted all his questions on the NHS, briefly pausing to cast stern looks of reproach across the house. Although in retrospect he may have just been stopping to wonder where his next hot dinner was coming from.
Of course for Corbyn the health service is best understood not as a public service but a deity: divine, unimpeachable, the ultimate source of good and entirely above criticism. Such religious fervour naturally does not lend itself to irony, and so a particular highlight today was his concern about “bed blocking”. This is when an ill person should be discharged but due to poor administrative oversight they end up languishing in an entirely inappropriate position. Sound familiar?
In the alternate universe Corbyn inhabits of course all working class people are embattled victims, clinging to their holy NHS and frantically scanning The Guardian to review the projected social care spends in their minutiae. But perhaps some on the Labour front bench are aware that this now over a year long Children In Need-style despatch from the hospital ward might not be the best way to go about PMQs.
Certainly Tom Watson is, having now sunk through the deep existential despair previously chronicled here into an almost zen like state of detachment. Mouth agape, hands clasped in benediction to some higher being, he straddles the frontbench aware and resigned to the fact that he is trapped in an eternal political groundhog day. Only instead of repeatedly chatting up Andie MacDowell he’s stuck with a grizzled old Trot from Islington. That’s Tinseltown for you! Bets should now be placed that he will go full Bill Murray and turn up to PMQs stark bollock naked as he realises that nothing he does will break this interminable cycle self-immolations by the dear leader.
Watson wasn’t the only one paralyzed in a loop of mounting despair however. Human yo-yo Tim Farron (so dubbed because he spends the entirety of PMQs rising to speak only to be ignored and then sit down again) finally got a chance to get a word in today. Of course some clever sod decided to heckle poor Tim. “He’s still here!” they shouted. Westminster’s saddest yo-yo slumped back into his seat, like Sisyphus aware that his fate for the rest of his political life would be to repeat this humiliating ritual every week. First as tragedy, then as farce…
Now it was the Chancellor’s turn. Philip Hammond decided to kick things off by paying tribute to the Right Honorable member for Tatton for his stewardship of “an economy on the brink of collapse” and “a record of which he can be proud”. Having sweetened the pill he then intoned gravely: “but times have moved on”. Osborne for his part sat on the backbenches smiling eerily, head cocked and eyes vacant in the manner of the psychopath in every single thriller film ever made. Specifically the psychopath right at the point when they realise their impeccably laid plans have been foiled and they will be spending the next twenty years in Alcatraz breaking rocks. A punishment that must seem altogether mild to George, having instead been sentenced to smile gaily whilst watching as his entire legacy is destroyed.
The statement itself seemed to be nothing so much as a giant attempt to wind up all of those who voted for the Tories as a party of fiscal prudency. So it turns out the budget won’t be in surplus until “some time at the beginning of the next parliament” (read: 2025, at best). Meanwhile of course debt will rise (hitting 90.2% in 2017-18); as will borrowing for the upcoming year by a cool £13 billion; and tax minimisation by multinationals will be cut down on too. To top it all off the living wage will be raised in a fruitless and never ending attempt to appease The Guardian-BBC-Labour axis. There comes a point when the Tories aren’t mimicking the Labour Party’s rhetoric in an electorally savvy ploy, they’re simply enacting their policies.
But not to worry! Fuel duty freezes will be maintained, so at least you’ll be able to travel around this brave new socialist utopia affordably. The Chancellor is also going to ensure that Wentworth Woodhouse near Rotherham, inspiration for Jane Austen’s Pemberley, is saved from falling into disrepair after Labour, “in an act of cultural vandalism”, opened a mine nearby. “We will today”, he announced triumphantly, “provide a £7.6 million grant to urgent repairs to safeguard this key piece of northern heritage”. For those unfamiliar with Wentworth, it’s a stately home and can be rented out for weddings and corporate dos. Although you will henceforth have to pay the staff £923 per hour each to walk around with the hors d’oeuvre to ensure their human rights to a living wage aren’t breached.
Picking up on Wentworth House in his response, John McDonnell noted that it was a Labour Government from the 1940s that decided to open the mine near Wentworth, going on to opine that he just wished that “some of the policies followed by Tory governments since the 1950s could be reversed so easily”. Well, in light of today’s statement, it looks like they have…