Angela Eagle, as befits her oxymoronic name, looks like a cherub and attacks like a raptor. Today her outfit was deceptively mumsy. A no-nonsense jacket, a sky-blue sweater, an arc of pearls, like a smile, laid across her breast-bone. Eagle is the mistress of the poisoned barb and she’d been whittling away at her missile all morning. Up she got and let fly. Her aim was true, her weighting perfect.
‘In June, the prime minister told the country she was the only person who could offer strong and stable leadership. With her cabinet crumbling before her eyes, can she tell us how it’s going?’
And nothing happened. Or barely anything. The gales of hilarity that usually greet Ms Eagle’s questions failed to materialise. A listless snuffling from the Labour benches, like the ripples of a turning tide, skittered across the house.
Extraordinary, really. And yet it summed up the session. Mrs May was assured, and, at times, commanding. The May-bashers seem to have run out of hate. Her tormentors have exhausted their impatience.
She was helped by a lousy showing from Mr Corbyn whose post-election glow has faded. He’s reverted to the lost and doddering figure who won the leadership in 2015 against all expectations. His problems today were all his own. Too many topics, not enough tactics. He led on crime and moved to police funding, to schools, to the NHS, to Universal Credit. By launching attacks on all fronts he left his quarry untouched. Nor was he able to rebut the rebuttals.
He quoted the NHS’s top tin-rattler, Simon Stevens, whose demands for extra cash are repeated weekly. Mrs May simply quoted another part of Mr Stevens’s rhetorical oeuvre in which he claimed that ‘the quality of NHS care is demonstrably improving…outcomes are dramatically better than ten years ago.’ And she quoted a report that public satisfaction with the NHS is at a 20-year high.
How did Mr Corbyn respond? By asking for more cash immediately. It got worse. The Labour leader tried to strike a superior note by explaining, as if to a child, that he was entitled to question the government.
‘I think this is a major moment,’ said Mrs May with her favourite clever-clogs sneer. ‘He’s got something right! We are the government. And he is the opposition.’
She chided him for a blunder made several weeks ago when he quoted a complaint from a constituent named Georgina but failed to pass the letter to her office. The PM remembered the constituent’s name. Mr Corbyn couldn’t even remember her problem.
Mrs May scored again against Labour’s Mary Creagh who claimed that the foreign secretary and the prime minister had disagreed about Putin’s attempts to use Facebook to subvert democracy. Mrs May pointed out that Creagh had failed to read her speech in full.
The spectacle of MPs in the Commons debating this Facebook drivel is a bit worrying. Are they serious? The idea is that last year’s referendum result was directly engineered from the Kremlin by evil Vladimir Putin using dummy Facebook accounts. He and his network of digital spies persuaded 17 million brainwashed Britons to cast their votes for Leave, in defiance of their natural Remain tendencies, in order to undermine the EU and boost Putin’s influence across the Eurasian landmass.
Honestly? Blaming Brexit on foreign espionage is the daftest theory to be aired in public since Mark Carney attempted to trigger a slump by predicting one.