By the arguments, the rhetoric, the presence at the despatch box, the delivery, the fluency, the facts at his disposal – the Prime Minister invariably wins PMQs but by the same token his opponent never loses. The engagement is such that no one gets hurt, no one gets their teeth knocked out, no one is crushed to death in the scrum. In terms of party politics, PMQs is structured to be a soulless draw.
If we score the noise, however, the Tories triumph. They always win. Their noise is a dense structure of victorious solidarity. It comes out of nowhere and jerks you awake no matter how deeply asleep you are.
Whenever Rishi says that Keir is “too weak to stand up to his union paymasters” it’s as though Harry Kane has scored. A shout of triumph (and possibly of relief) is let loose from the banks and ranks behind him.
Keir criticised him for some NHS crisis or calamity and Rishi responded: “Let’s have a look at the NHS in Wales.”
It might have been the 1966 World Cup finale. What an appalling noise!
They must believe that they have won something, that they have wounded the party opposite, that they have felled some beast. But back he comes, Keir with his equal and opposite counter of “non-doms not nurses”. That’s the thing that brings Labour to its feet. They have chosen to believe that taxing non-doms will raise £3.6 billion and that sum will go to pay what the nurses are asking for.
Apparently, even without non-doms Rishi could make it better. “All he has to do,” Keir cried “is talk to them.” (And give them the sort of cash no one else in the country can hope for).
Rishi laid out the half dozen things the Government had done for nurses over the last year or two – the 3%, the £1,000 of training, the £5,000 bursaries – but nothing, of course, compared to… Wales.
The leaders’ literary sallies don’t have the same effect. One of them called the current situation “the Nightmare Before Christmas,” and the other said, “Winter is Coming,” and likened the first one to a hedgehog, curled up in himself.
That’s not just soulless but scoreless.
The desire to humanise politics by bringing great causes down to cases has resulted in a regrettable outbreak of anecdotal distress. We had Zac’s Law earlier in the week, but that was overshadowed this afternoon by Alex’s mum, Nicola’s dad, Sharon and her family and the Lib Dem leader whose parents, he said, had died of cancer when he was young. A hush goes over the Commons when these events are brought to bear on the place – a sentimental empathy that is forgotten as soon as the next question is asked. Politicians really ought to think twice before deploying this sort of weaponry.
Angela Richardson produced the most satisfying end to a year in parliament. She told the House that short-term sticking plasters would entrench divisions in her constituency and the solution was for the Government to tunnel under the A3 at Guildford.
Ms Richardson has a great future in concrete poetry.
And a Merry Christmas to all…