All MPs are familiar with Jeremy Corbyn. The nylon tie and the charity shop jacket give him an air of respectability, of erudition even, but the unloved haircut and the whiny accent mark him out as a toxic hazard. He’s the kind of champion grumbler who shows up at every constituency surgery with sheaves of paperwork stuffed into plastic bags. And today Jezza came stooping and shuffling into PMQs with a heap of with grievances to dump on David Cameron. The Labour leader’s activism may have a political flavour but its origins are personal. He gets his kicks by enduring defeat. Misery is his life’s mission.
He opened by accusing the PM of rendering children destitute while giving kickbacks to big corporations. Billions, he said, have been wasted reducing taxes while funding for kiddies has fallen by 71 percent. Half a million nippers had been nudged into ‘poverty’.
Cameron revised the figure upward to 800,000 and claimed that these lucky citizens hadn’t been forced into poverty. They’d been rescued from it. By him! And he pointed out that tax cuts help to expand the profit-base from which revenues are drawn. This has been explained to the left before. It’s been ignored by the left before too.
The SNP’s Angus Robertson showed Corbyn that he hasn’t got a monopoly on bad news. Robertson usually looks like a man who has entered the Commons to escape a Weightwatcher’s sales team but today he had an air of resolute grandeur about him. The international statesman had arrived to turn his unflinching gaze on Britain’s response to the migration crisis.
He charged the PM with arranging for ‘dehumanising treatment’ to be meted out to refugees. ‘In Folkestone’, he said, Syrian children have been forced to sleep on concrete floors. And a naked woman was beaten at a detention centre, he added, rather incompletely. By whom, he didn’t say, but he seemed to imply that the thrashing was delivered by public employees. He fixed his coldest beam on the PM. ‘Are you ashamed?’ he asked, with a victorious pout. This created the unfortunate impression that the SNP is quite happy for naked females to get a kicking if it brings a blush to the PM’s cheeks.
Richard Burgon made a better fist of embarrassing the PM. If the Leave campaign is successful, he asked, will Cameron resign. ‘Yes or no?’
Seasoned politicians, when forced into the ‘yes or no’ corner by some harassing pipsqueak, prefer to take their time and to divest themselves of many paragraphs of rolling oratory. But Cameron shot up like a meerkat, squawked ‘No!’ and vanished back down again. By making his discomfort plain he simply added to his discomfort. If Labour were smart they’d punch that bruise on a weekly basis.
Apart from this nervous blunder, Cameron showed an excess of self-belief today. It was like ‘Save the World’ Gordon Brown all over again. He claimed to have ‘abolished the pay gap’ for the under 40s. And when asked about polio he said ‘we are close’ (meaning ‘science is close’) to making the virus extinct. ‘This government is going the extra mile to make it happen.’ He thinks he’s Alexander Fleming.
Corbyn celebrated his 100th question at PMQs today and he made quite a fuss of this slender achievement. But the tally is revealing. He’s chalked up a century but has yet to score.