Karl Marx famously remarked that history repeats itself, “first as tragedy, and then as farce”. He was right. So right in fact that even his own ideological movement would be subject to the same principle. We had the famines, and the massacres, and the icepicks in the skull of the twentieth century: Marxism as tragedy. And now we have the farce, of which there is of course no finer a proponent than Jeremy Corbyn.
In this spirit, the Labour leader decided to come to PMQs today dressed in the most lurid brown suit known to man. One can only imagine the conversation in Holloway Road market:
“Morning Sir, how can we help you?”
“Oh hello there, I was wondering if you had any tailoring in the shade of human excrement? Preferably oversized too, of the sort a Uzbek goat herder would wear at a funeral? You know, a real statement piece?”
“Why you’re in luck Sir”, the merchant would say, his eyes lighting up, “we have this exquisite lounge suit right here, hewn from the very finest turd-brown Soviet polyester sent straight from Vladivostok. It’s going to set you back a grand though I’m afraid. Currency fluctuations post Brexit, you see sir, they really hit us humble artisans hard”.
Having parted with his cash Corbyn marched straight to Parliament no doubt feeling particularly buoyed by his pal Seumas’s six solid questions demanding the PM present a Brexit white paper immediately. But then, no! Disaster struck!
Up popped professional brown nose Chris Philp (formerly of the Remain campaign) to get things underway with a planted question about the need for a “government white paper laying out our vision for a global Britain”. The PM spent a few sentences name-checking other Tory Remainers who had also made such calls before calmly responding: “I can confirm that our plan will be set out in a White Paper published for the House”. This is the point at which more hip leaders would have dropped the mic or said “boom”.
Jeremy Corbyn rose looking like a deer in the headlights. Next to him Tom Watson broke a smile realising they’d been had. Emily Thornberry, well Emily Thornberry looked like insufferably aloof so no discernible change there. What had provoked the Government to change their position just a day after David Davis had rebuffed calls for a white paper?
Well, this is what in America fans of Donald Trump refer to as “4D chess”. You spend ages winding your opponents up about something – be it a white paper or a birth certificate – and then with no warning you concede to their demands, as you had always been planning to do anyway. This leaves them with nothing to say and a not insignificant amount of egg on their faces. In political chess Trump is Kasparov, May is Kraminik: the grand-master’s protege.
So bewildered was Corbyn that he began by paying tribute to the ”police officer who lost his life over the weekend in Northern Ireland”. Except he hadn’t lost his life. He’s still in hospital and in a stable-condition with non-life threatening injuries. Then again, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Jeremy Corbyn would be so keen to bury British officials in Northern Ireland…
Having been forced to think on his feet – somewhat of a cruel thing to do to a man so ill-suited to thinking – the Labour leader opted to spend his first two questions grilling the PM on “when that white paper will be available to us, and why it is taking so long for us to get it?”. This was arguably a slightly impatient a line of attack seeing as the Government had only announced it was drawing one up literally ten seconds prior. Perhaps he should go back to reading out questions that people send in: that way at least one person gets to hear the Government held to account on something they care about.
Theresa May proceeded to have a whirl of a time throwing out soundbites about a Labour Party in which “the right hand is not talking to the far-left” and “cannot speak for themselves and they will never speak for Britain”. Her best hit though came when she identified that “the right honorable gentleman always asks about process—about the means to an end”.
Ultimately process is all Jeremy Corbyn can talk about. He’s a man who is so utterly lost that he has somehow found himself spending every week championing a single economic market beloved of multinationals and a customs union that puts up such significant external tariffs that African farmers are left starving while the EU buys up vast butter mountains and milk lakes. And yet he is so utterly spineless that instead of standing up for these principles he simply fudges it in the vain hope of party unity and appeasing two diametrically opposed sections of the electorate. First as tragedy, then as farce…
Aside from the main show, Warrington MP Helen Jones got up to propose the riddle: “They are the best drivers of social mobility, and 99% of them are rated good or outstanding, while 65% of their places are in the most deprived areas of this country”. The house paused to wonder what she could be talking about? Brothels? Home-cannabis factories? Chop shops? No, nurseries apparently. This must have struck many as a particularly poor riddle. Angus Robertson chipped in to express his sincere concern that a US-UK trade deal could mean we were forced to eat “beef raised using growth hormone and chicken meat washed with chlorinated water” . Sounds yum, and raises the intriguing possibility of a utopian Britain in which we would all be gorging on vast Trump Steaks washed down with vats of Coke while we drive our Mustangs and Chevvys. Finally Ed Milliband rose to speak, and then everyone laughed at him so he sat down again. I think he subsequently got back up but by then he was so emasculated few took note of what he said, and I cannot be certain Hansard even bothered to record it.