Jeremy Corbyn wanted to repeat last week’s victory on Universal Credit. He landed no serious blows but he made the government look silly in its handling of the reforms. Mrs May brought up Labour’s record, and the ‘tax credit’ merry-go-round devised by Gordon Brown. Voters were fleeced by one arm of government and reimbursed by another. And the pick-pocket prime minister denied responsibility for the theft while claiming credit for the reparations. Mrs May stressed the indispensable virtue of UC: it helps people ‘back into work’ rather than trapping them beneath the man-hole cover of dependence.
Back into work. Corbyn was silent about that. Perhaps he’s aware of a conundrum that underlies his movement. There are votes in the poor but only if they stay poor. The richer people get the more taxes they pay and the likelier they are to question a government’s ability to subsidise the needy rather than the noisy.
The SNP were in fully cry. Tommy Sheppard, owner of a stand-up club in Edinburgh, paid homage to his former career by arriving in semi-comical garb. His freckled pink scalp gleamed wanly in the lights. His remaining hairs, like moist spiders’ legs, were deftly arranged so as to invite bids from wig-makers in his constituency. And his midnight blue pin-stripe suit seemed distinctly eccentric. He looked as if he’d climbed into it last Friday and it had been fighting him off ever since.
His question concerned the fields of shale gas in Scotland which the SNP treats like burial grounds where ancient Caledonian warriors sleep for all eternity. To disturb their rest would be to tempt the gods to dreadful retribution. Strange that these superstitions still lurk in the Celtic fringes of Britain. Mr Sheppard, doubly deluded, imagines that his fear of progress is a sign of enlightenment. He asked Mrs May to follow ‘Scotland’s lead’ by banning shale in England. Mrs May politely told him he was potty. The SNP’s aversion to supercharging their economy with cheap fuel stored beneath the grouse-moors seems very odd. Surely they aren’t worried about losing their cherished status as the victims of stingy London toffs.
The Speaker, more than usually full of himself, wasted lots of time reminding the house not to waste any time. ‘The prime minister must, and will, be heard,’ he yelled, as he often does. ‘Calm yourselves…members are becoming overexcited,’ he observed yet again. He interrupted Jeremy Corbyn in mid-snarl and the Labour leader had to back-track and repeat a long list of soundbites. PMQs now features 20 minutes of injury-time, much of it annexed by the windbag Speaker oxygenating his prolix vocabulary.
Because the session is watched by viewers around the globe, the Speaker mistakes their interest for a fascination with his pleonastic inanities. Today he treated his fan-base to this admonition. ‘Order! Order! There are some very curious hand-and-finger gestures being deployed, each trying to outdo each other in terms of dexterity and prowess.’
A Tory heckler was treated to this chummy harangue. ‘I expect better of you, Mr Hoare. You were much better behaved when you were at Oxford University, man, what’s happened to you?’.
‘I have composed myself,’ came the reply, in a parody of contrition. A few wheezes of false hilarity greeted this non-quip, and the impression was created that the Commons is a closed-shop for Varsity back-slappers snickering at their own wisecracks. If that’s the plan, then great. If something more contemporary, and less self-aggrandising, is wanted, then let’s get rid of this unruly fool.