It’s not really the ‘Questions to the Prime Minister’ that are all that important, so much as the ‘Answers from the Prime Minister’. MPs on either benches can come up with any old rubbish. Only the PM’s fumbles, slips, or surprise admissions will make the bulletins. Or would have. This is Theresa May’s penultimate Wednesday session. The government she formed has a little over a week of life, and has stopped making news. It might be liberating for her instead. She could say anything she wants to her interrogators. An-y-thing. We are at the fin du regime. Power and patronage are slipping away from No. 10, even while there has been one trillion pounds of spending promises and a The Thick of It -style government department announced. But still Mrs May has her tabbed folder from which to refer.
It’s so unfair. She has to mug up all morning on current issues across Whitehall,, as well as memorise the hopefully witty and savage put-down for the final answer to the Leader of the Opposition. All Corbyn has to do is to be able to read out aloud what has been written for him. A grammar-school-educated 13-year-old could do that. Corbyn is not too interested in the actual responses. His over-long polemical questions will be chopped and shaped like a Bird’s Eye chicken burgers and fed to his supporters using the microchips of their internet devices. This multitude already believe JC walks on water. They do not witness Corbyn’s regular crucifixions at the Despatch Box.
There were mentions of England’s Cricket World Cup victory, plus also Lewis Hamilton’s record-breaking sixth successive victory at Silverstone. The reader might be forgiven for thinking that cricketing analogies might be exclusively appropriate for this session. After all, the PM is at the crease while the questions are bowled at her. Opposition MPs use ‘sledging’ tactic to disrupt her concentration.
Not so. John Gummer, or Lord Beefburger as older readers will know him, has described, in his capacity as one of the overnumerous High Priests of Global Warming, the government’s response to climate change as run ‘like a Dad’s Army’. And it was this quote that Jeremy Corbyn used as the basis for his questions. He could gone in like Hodges the Warden, or Yeatman the Verger. But no. He was Private Frazer. ???We’re doomed???, he was saying to the chamber, but not in a Scottish accent. It would be bad form to steal the SNP’s thunder in this way.
Mrs May refused to assume the role of Capt. Mainwaring. She also refused to make her answers just about the environment. In addition to batting off the question, she hit back with questions of her own. It wasn’t cricket after all. It had become tennis.
A normal Labour leader could have ignored these questions. By now everyone knows Corbyn is not a normal Labour leader. And these questions were about Labour’s newish unofficial culture of rather overt anti-Semitism that positively everyone is talking about as a form of relief from talking about Brexit. The Party of the People’s finger-wagging at its leader has gone up a notch. One-third of its peers paid (we can assume) for a full-page advertisement in The Guardian stating the bleedin’ obvious, a copy of which the PM helpfully brandished across the Despatch Box. Corbyn might have missed it, or a staffer might have cut it out the Party’s copy of the paper. Or Corbyn only reads the Morning Star over his beans on toast. But in this case he had to answer the PM. His response was worse than ignoring, merely spouting robotically a bland party line that even his own deputy no longer accepts.
The House did not listen in reverential silence during this exchange. There were shouts of ‘shame’ and ‘disgraceful’. It is to be hoped that none of these were directed at May as she took three points off Corbyn’s serve. But Corbyn has six questions and May stopped her own at three. So it was back to Dad’s Army and cricket for the rest, with one bowled statistic being batted back as another. It is perhaps the rule that members are not addressed by name in the chamber that prevented the PM from closing with ‘Who Do You Think You Are Kidding, Mr Corbyn’. She should have. Instead she compared him unfavourably to his ‘heroes’, Attlee, Bevan and Benn. She should have known better, as it is possible Corbyn’s heroes are actually Lenin, Stalin, and Mao, given the company he keeps.
It was Sir Peter Bottomley who assumed the role of the Reverend Timothy Farthing, vicar of Walmington-on-Sea, with a question about a criminal case or cases no-one has heard of. Is this about to blow up into a big scandal? Remember you read about it here first if it does. Lillian Greenwood alerted the Commons to the grave condition of Notts County Football Club, the one not managed by Brian Clough, which is the oldest soccer club in the world. We were told there is a medical robot called Rory doing good work somewhere in England. By coincidence that is also the name of a government minister, and there was such mirth at the coincidence.
Ian Blackford has the stature of Verger Yeatman and the accent of Private Frazer, but did not go on the environment. Or rather he did, sort of. He tried to get the PM to agree that Donald Trump was a racist, and then that Boris Johnson was a racist as well. He then tried to make out the PM was racist because of her ‘Go Home’ vans and the Home Office culture of a ‘hostile environment. It was therefore strange that he stopped ath the White House and the Government benches, given the previous exchanges. Instead Mr Blackford of the SNP accused the PM of appealing to nationalists. To respond to this, Mrs May did not need to refer to her folder.
A side-note here. From the Order Paper, there were three Conservative backbench questions, six Labour, but five for the SNP, excluding their leader’s. And the calibre of their questions were better, being more detailed than those of Labour’s. The SNP seem to have evolved over the years in essence the Labour Party minus the anti-Semitism. It must be a pity to some they do not field candidates in England. Brexit did not get much of a look-in at this session.
Two of the Conservative questions referenced the half-century since the first manned moon landings, and this raises and interesting question of its own. Does Jeremy Corbyn believe the USA sent men to the Moon half-a-century ago? Certainly a significant minority of his supporters seem to doubt it, as much as they doubt that six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. There always seems to be a preamble concerning an anniversary or news before the politicians get down the nitty-gritty, rather like Sumo wrestlers chucking salt into the ring before they grapple. Given that Corbyn does not seem to believe that God should Save Our Gracious Queen, this could have been a gotcha moment by Mrs May. While the USA sent men to the moon for all mankind, the flag Neil Armstrong planted was not the UN’s, it was the Stars and Stripes, the globally-recognised symbol of capitalism. Corbyn would have had to acknowledge the USA’s achievement over the USSR through gritted teeth.
The PM has one more PMQs to go, so there’s still time to refer to this anniversary. That is not the most important issue. Will Mrs May get the apparently standing ovation given PMs who quit in the middle of a Parliament? I am sure this is on everyone’s minds. Stay tuned.