What a very different atmosphere the House of Commons Chamber will have today for its first PMQs since the election. In the week before Parliament dissolved, Tory MPs were in a most obsequious mood, reciting the ‘strong and stable’ slogan that Theresa May started her campaign with, and even telling the Prime Minister that ‘I am confident that the country will be safe after the election under strong and stable leadership’ (sadly Peter Lilley, who made this prediction, stood down at the election and so is not in Parliament to offer his insight into how he feels about the state of the country now).
It will be interesting to see if anyone bothers to praise May at all in this session. It is far more likely that tribal types will want to take the fight to Labour, particularly when it comes to its position (a collection of different ideas which can only be described as a ‘position’ if you mean the sort of position adopted by a contortionist in a hall of mirrors).
Party leaders normally use PMQs to rally their party troops behind them. But May knows that her party is only tolerating her while it works out what the hell to do next, so even if she manages a stern dressing down of Jeremy Corbyn – which will be difficult given he managed to take seats off her earlier this month – she won’t get her party behind her in the conventional sense. Her best hope is to give the impression that while she may be a surprisingly bad election campaigner, she’s the best person to hold fort for a little while at least.
Inevitably, the confidence and supply deal with the DUP will come up, either from Jeremy Corbyn himself who may choose to link it with Labour’s proposed amendment to the Queen’s Speech which demands that the government end cuts to the emergency services and end the public sector pay freeze, or from backbenchers keen to point out that their area needs more money too. Labour’s new line is that voters want an end to austerity – something that has also been acknowledged by Philip Hammond – and juxtaposing the £1bn for Northern Ireland with cuts to public services and no more money for supposed priority areas will work very well for anyone campaigning for their local area or a certain funding pot.
This will also be the first outing for the SNP’s new Westminster leader Ian Blackford. He has a hard act to follow: Angus Robertson was often the only person asking decent questions at Prime Minister’s Questions before he lost his seat. The SNP might not be so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed after the snap election, but Blackford is a confident and boisterous Commons performer: it will be interesting to see whether he continues Robertson’s focus on foreign affairs and independence, or whether he stops talking so much about the constitution and more about public spending.
As for the Lib Dems, who are in the process of picking their new leader, this may be the last opportunity for Tim Farron to perform his little routine of pulling increasingly exasperated red faces as he tries to get the Speaker’s attention. His party had a miserable election campaign but a pleasing result – but today’s most confident parties in this post-election PMQs will be Labour and the DUP.