Early bloopers at PMQs. The session began with Theresa May offering Jeremy Corbyn her congratulations on becoming a grandfather. A mistake. The tribute was due elsewhere. But the improvised hilarities that accompanied this blunder burned up several minutes.
Corbyn chose to attack on welfare. Over the last week Labour’s sound-bite factory has supplied their leader with some decent phrases. ‘Institutional barbarity’ is their name for giving a timetable to welfare claimants. Changes to invalidity payments are called ‘imposing poverty on the most vulnerable.’ But flabby Corbyn floundered with these potent weapons and failed to deploy them effectively. A bit like his tie. The sleek crimson knot was threaded correctly but left to sag a half-centimetre below the correct altitude. Instead he indulged in larky north London populism.
He mentioned a new movie, ‘I, Daniel Blake,’ by Ken Loach, the far-left director of TV adverts. Loach’s latest political thriller exposes Britain’s welfare system as an international embarrassment run by exploitative slave-drivers determined to humiliate the needy. The Labour leader clearly assents to the film’s precepts and he tried to persuade Mrs May that it might inspire changes to our system. Not surprising, perhaps, to find an admirer of Das Kapital suggesting that policy should be informed by fiction.
Corbyn poked fun at Damian Green, the Work and Pensions minister, whose verdict on the film arrived in two parts. First he declared it ‘monstrously unfair.’ Then he revealed that he’d neglected to watch it. Some might call that incompetence. Others would consider it ministerial efficiency. Green hunched in his seat, squirming inwardly.
Mrs May took the fight to Corbyn and suggested he was a fantasist. In his dream-world each citizen would go from the birthing suite to the crematorium attended by a retinue of flunkies supplying their every need.
Corbyn is in a quandary here. When he brought up the issue of food banks he revealed that their popularity has soared. Back in 2010 a mere 40,000 peckish Britons collected their evening meal of sardines and crackers from charity donors. Today the total has risen by 960,000. Which his excellent news, in its way. A million hungry souls now receive nutritious, energy-rich meals every day thanks to the affluent majority. The UK is riding high in the International Altruism League.
And here lies Corbyn’s conundrum. He wants the citizenry attended by armies of instant benefactors. But they have to be hirelings of the state. Independent action by willing altruists is taken by him as evidence of moral decline and economic failure.
Perhaps we need a film to dramatise and clarify these matters. But it won’t be a Ken Loach production. His next movie, ‘I, Damian Green’ tells the heart-wrenching tale of an obscure and powerless government functionary, toiling for a pittance in an airless Whitehall office, who makes a casual faux pas and is cruelly mocked on television by a puffed-up bully named Jeremy. Heroic Damian survives his ordeal, and after narrowly avoiding eviction, homelessness and starvation, emerges chastened and uplifted by the experience. Damian will be played by Timothy Spall. Jeremy by Meryl Streep