The last PMQs before the Christmas recess often has a rather pantomime atmosphere. Unfortunately, neither Jeremy Corbyn nor Theresa May are anywhere near nimble enough to be able to create anything more than the sort of play that everyone leaves at the interval – and today’s performance wasn’t helped by John Bercow’s decision to extend the previously half an hour session to 53 minutes with no apparent good reason. The Speaker himself contributed to the overrunning PMQs by providing interesting details about MPs’ weddings that he’d been invited to.
Jeremy Corbyn had one Christmas pun, which was about there being ‘no room at the A&E’. Quite a difficult pun for MPs to chuckle at, given the context of the question was patients being left on trolleys in hospital corridors, but this was better than some of his questions, all of which were themed on the NHS.
The problem with the NHS is that it has been Labour’s political comfort blanket for so long that Conservative Prime Ministers are very well-versed in dealing with questions on the matter. And if those questions are, as Corbyn’s were today, suitably vague, then those Prime Ministers can get away with merely listing selective statistics on how well they think the health service is doing. Corbyn asked one closed question requiring a yes or no answer (which the Prime Minister didn’t give) about whether she thought the NHS had all the money it needs to survive. He also asked several questions in one, tying together GP staffing shortages with the social care crisis into one uncomfortable bundle which May was able to ignore entirely.
It ended up being a standard NHS session, with both leaders trading numbers without anything changing at all. Perhaps when he comes to making his new year’s resolution, Corbyn should decide not to ask questions about the NHS unless he actually knows what he wants to say.