Simple result at PMQs. Mrs May won without trying. Mr Corbyn lost in the same way. Even at his most animated, the Labour leader sounds like a second-hand appliance being tested by repairmen. Sometimes he’s a Hoover, sometimes a food-blender, sometimes a wood-sander grumbling away in a garden-shed. Today’s noise was the faint, ruminative drone of an electric toothbrush. He hunched over the despatch box, his jaw slack, his head down. His words dropped from his lips like scraps of dry parchment. It seemed he was addressing all his remarks to his socks. This did not work in his favour.
The game-plan today was to portray the prime minister as a sadistic landlady who enjoys evicting hungry orphans on Christmas Eve. He gave statistical proof: 128,000 children will eat their Christmas pud in ‘temporary accommodation,’ he said (meaning hotels). But to Corbyn it’s a ‘national disgrace’ to treat children like this because a hotel denies them ‘a home of their own’.
Mrs May was well equipped for a statistical bunfight. The number of sub-standard homes, she said, is ‘down by 45 per cent since they peaked under Labour’ and ‘statutory homelessness is down by 50 per cent’. Mr Corbyn’s reply was revealing. He cited figures suggesting that refurbishments had improved and that home-ownership had soared under the last Labour government. That is, the Blair government. But he didn’t mention Blair. He never does. And during the Blair years Mr Corbyn systematically opposed many of the measures he now champions. It’s all very Blairite.
The SNP’s Ian Blackford got into a tizzy about bank closures. RBS is planning to shut so many branches that some Scottish towns will be left bankless. ‘This must be reversed,’ he thundered. Or that’s the effect he was aiming for. He’d be more convincing in the house if he didn’t have the lisping delivery of a pantomime dame and the physique of a half-melted snowman.
Labour’s Caroline Flint pursued the same issue. Banks are being shut down in her neck of rural Yorkshire. Culprit: NatWest. She failed to mention that NatWest was once a proud independent bank that was ruthlessly chased down and swallowed by RBS while the Labour government smiled on benignly. The author of the banquet was Fred Goodwin. Fred the Shred. A born decimator who enjoyed cutting out the loss-making parts of his empire and feeding them into a bacon-slicer. If that policy persists the credit belongs to Labour.
Caroline Lucas mounted a skilfully concealed assault on the disabled. She said that Philip Hammond’s recent comments about productivity were an attempt to blame workers with disabilities for a fall in Britain’s industrial efficiency. Only the most selective and partisan observer could possibly interpret the chancellor’s words in that strange way, and yet Ms Lucas, not disabled herself, demanded that the prime minister intervene and force the chancellor to issue an apology. Ms Lucas’s request contains two slanders. One is that disabled people are mute weaklings who can’t look after themselves without the supervision and protection of the able-bodied. The other is that the disabled are so bored and paranoid that they sift the off-hand comments of politicians for evidence of spite. It’s sad to see such prejudices active in a public figure. Perhaps Ms Lucas had a tough upbringing and still feels the need to lash out.