Jeremy Corbyn hasn’t changed his clothes since Christmas. He arrived at PMQs today in his dependable outfit of non-slip shoes, biscuit-coloured suit and minimum-wage tie. His white, flattened scalp and his mood of perplexed fatigue make him look like a dutiful pensioner inspecting a care-home for his beloved mum and wondering if he might check in as well, while he’s there. Today, however, mighty deeds summoned him to parliament. International monsters awaited his challenge. There were slavering dragons to tame. And famous victories to be won and celebrated. But he wasn’t up to it. As always. When Corbyn fails, it has to be said, he does so placidly and almost noiselessly, with a dogged acceptance that not-good-enough is his personal best. His point of attack was Google and its penny-pinching tax-bill. The tech giant has recently made six billion in profits and yielded only a few meagre shillings to the Treasury.
Mouse-like Mr Corbyn asked if three per cent was the correct rate for Google? Cameron was prepared. He converted the question into ‘tough Tories nab taxes ducked by feeble Labour suck-ups’. Caroline Flint got the same treatment when she came to Corbyn’s aid from the back-benches. How often, Cameron wondered, and how hard had Ms Flint thumped the Cabinet table as she fulminated against the dodges of multi-national tax accountants?
Slyly he congratulated the opposition on ‘being genuinely angry’ at New Labour’s failures. He urged them to address themselves to the beautiful people turned global fat-cats. ‘Ask Tony Blair, he’s at JP Morgan. Ask Alistair Darling, he’s at Morgan Stanley, though it’s hard to keep up.’ He evoked a sun-kissed Gordon Brown tanning himself on the roof of a profiteering outfit in California named Pimco. (Much as Dave derides these honey-eaters, he’ll doubtless make the same bee-line when the time comes.)
He found it laughable that ‘these two’ (Corbyn and McDonnell), would stand up to anyone. He rattled off a list of their recent compromises and cave-ins. They met the unions and gave them flying pickets. They met the Argentinians and gave them the Falklands. And they met ‘a bunch of migrants’ in Calais and welcomed them all to Britain. ‘Bunch of migrants’. Bit of a blooper. An instant Twitter-quake erupted as the geeks in Dictionary Corner took offence at the collective noun. ‘Callous,’ declared Diane Abbot regally. ‘Out of touch,’ bleated Ronnie Cowan. The leader of Labour’s parish council-in-exile, Chuka Umunna, called it ‘inflammatory’ in a clear attempt to fuel the fire. No doubt by nightfall the TV studios will be full of language cops and grudge experts disputing the merits of the phrase. Even now Newsnight’s team of bookers are scouring academia for a Marxist lexicographer who can explain that ‘bunch’ in this context was first used by Oswald Mosley. The syllable itself will be taboo by tomorrow. Better call it ‘the b-word’.
Yvette Cooper raised it as a point of order but she alone relied on the procedures of the House. MPs preferred to express their anger with 140 savage blows to the keyboard. A curious development. Even the people in parliament use Twitter as the people’s parliament.