Jezza is one of the oldest Out campaigners in the Commons. He’s not quite the ‘Father of the Outs’ – Bill Cash claims that honour – but the Labour leader is next in line. Yet the referendum has led him to a shrewd, albeit unprincipled, decision. If your enemies are tearing each other apart, pull up a chair and enjoy the show. Hence his silence on Europe. A slow but strengthening civil war has begun within the Tory party and the vote itself will sound the death-knell for many a high-profile Conservative. So Corbo’s pleasant task is to sit back and wait for the funerals. Meanwhile he’s obliged to pick a fight of some kind at PMQs and today he lighted on an issue of great international moment: David Cameron’s failure to meet his promises on free kindergarten provision. That’s right. An entire generation of dribbling pink-faced toddlers – among them perhaps a future prime minister – is being denied the opportunity to eat sand, suck plastic dinosaurs and regurgitate chewed Rusks under the supervision of yawning babysitters funded by the Treasury. What a scandal. Ban Ki Moon’s special envoy will no doubt soon arrive to charge the PM with child neglect.
The referendum battlefield sent its first artillery rumble into PMQs today. So far Tory Outers have maintained a not-quite-perfect truce on Wednesday afternoons but Cameron’s dissembling may have goaded them into action. It began with Angus Robertson, the SNP super-heavyweight, who gave a lengthy recital of social rights and workplace protections and suggested that they were the unique achievement of the EU. David Cameron, ignoring the fact that every item on Robertson’s list is guaranteed by states unconnected to Brussels, claimed that Britain is far safer in ‘a reformed European Union.’ This sleight-of-tongue is how he labels his recent ‘deal’ on Europe whose flimsy provisions have already vanished like spume on the rivers tides of history.
What he calls ‘reform’ of the EU amounts to a couple of insinuations. One is that we are not really part of the EU because we repudiate its defining endeavours, namely the Euro, Schengen, and political union. The second is that the best way to continue not being part of the EU is to continue being part of the EU. To call that reform is like calling a waste paper basket a library.
Next up, Bernard Jenkin, the polite whispering Eurosceptic. No sign of him in the chamber. Had the Tory whips got him in a neck-hold behind the Speaker’s chair?
‘Where is the feller?’ cried the Speaker succumbing to one of those antiquarian spasms which he mystifyingly finds amusing. To replace Jenkin he called David Davis who said that the allocation of National Insurance numbers vastly exceeds the official immigration totals. Will HMRC release the relevant data? Cameron pressed the heir-to-Blair button. The figures are complicated, he oozed, but he’s satisfied that HMRC was publishing everything required. ‘And I’ll continue to make sure that’s the case.’
The Speaker called Labour’s Gisela Stuart, the No 2 German Brexiteer in the country (the No 1 is Kirsten Farage). But she disappointed the sceptics by asking about Tibetan independence. Clearly she’s adopting her leader’s policy of watching her foes setting fire to their own farmstead.
Tory Europhile Richard Benyon put in a bid for future preferment. He praised a little-known but utterly brilliant reconfiguration of European fishing policy which has been quietly arranged by an unsung backbencher named…Richard Benyon. Cameron beamed agreeably. Behind the smile he seemed to be pondering what junior ministry to offer Benyon in the summer reshuffle. The only snag is that the Tories may reshuffle Cameron first.