Today was a reminder of the lost art of how to construct a series of questions at PMQs. Emily Thornberry started off by asking Damian Green if he was prepared to be held to the same standard as he held government ministers when he was in opposition. Sensing a bear trap, a clearly wary Green rose to answer—and you could see he was dreading the prospect of five questions on the Cabinet Office’s investigation into his personal conduct.
But Thornberry’s follow-up was cleverer than that. She instead asked him a question about retention rates among nurses that he had asked John Prescott 17 years ago. Predictably, Green had no answer. Score one to Thornberry: or at least the person prepping her for PMQs, a certain Damian McBride.
When Green asked Prescott his question, he had talked about what nurses were saying to him. Thornberry then asked Green what nurses were saying to him today. Score another to Thornberry. And so it went on.
Now, this wasn’t the perfect PMQs performance. Thornberry’s delivery let her down at times. But it was an almost perfect example of how to construct a series of questions, and how to exploit the full drama of PMQs. It was rather like watching a brilliant swing bowler set a batsman up with the perfect out-swinger, before pinning them in front with an in-swinging Yorker. Afterwards, even Tory MPs had to acknowledge how skilfully Green had been set up.
Now there is, obviously, more to politics than PMQs. But to those of us who lament the low quality of the Corbyn/ May exchanges, today was a reminder of how fine a spectacle PMQs can be.