Ah the joys of political marriages. Theresa May’s pact with the DUP bolstered her at PMQs today, and she delivered her most assured performance since the election. Having an ally who secretly hates you is the ultimate liberation, as David Cameron discovered with the LibDems. May is free to flourish the ultimate get-out clause any time: ‘Them lot made me do it,’ is the best excuse in Westminster. And the DUP are a pretty formidable outfit. Grouped en masse around the microphone they look like a pack of concrete gnomes designed to halt a speeding tank. The Easter Island statues would probably deliver a softer Brexit.
Jeremy Corbyn had a huge task today. When the government is teetering, the pressure on the opposition leader is enormous. And what a day this was. Perhaps a historic day. A moment for chroniclers to pinpoint and say, ‘that’s when his future went pop.’
Brexit is his weakest topic but even so he scored six own-goals in a row. He arrived with a prepared speech which he read out like a prepared speech. It was an ironic precis of yesterday’s chaotic events and his hope was to turn Mrs May’s difficulties into a hilarious frieze punctuated by laugh-out-loud punchlines. This didn’t just fail. Every syllable of it went wrong.
Instead of standing up and being flattened by laugher Mrs May rose to near silence. She put on a pained frown and said in her cut-glass accent, ‘a little difficult to detect the question in that.’ The Tories roared with approval. She was like the head-mistress asking the slow boy to read the long word again. She enumerated Labour’s multi-storey contradictions on Brexit. And she impersonated John McDonnell being asked what Labour’s plan is. ‘Well it’s difficult for us.’
Her aggressive sparkle has returned from somewhere. At times she was content just to stand at the despatch box and wait, with her Narnia face on, as solemn as a marble nun. And she indulged in her most characteristic gesture: the Theresa May laugh of arrogant gaiety. Remember that? You may want to try it at home. Find a chair, sit down, throw back your head, open your mouth and guffaw at the ceiling while heaving your shoulders up and down with helpless derision.
At times she was also athletically pugilistic. She likes to brace her shoulders at the despatch box, flexing and partially locking them, as she leans downwards and forwards. It’s a very aggressive, very unwomanly gesture. But it exudes power and confidence and the Tory benches sensed her thirst for combat today. Just before noon, they were a disorderly rabble close to collapse. An hour later they were a vigorous and clear-headed political unit. The credit is not all Mrs May’s. Part of it goes to the grizzled old shuffler, Jeremy Corbyn, and part to Ian Blackford, the SNP leader in the Commons.
Mr Blackford is a chubby dimwit who wears overlarge suits of comically jaunty blue. He has the air of a retired clown who attends a debating club to get him out of the house. He doesn’t listen to the exchanges at PMQs. He doesn’t even listen to the news. Today he praised the single market and its pivotal role in Scotland’s economy. Mrs May had already stated three times that Scotland’s departure from the single market is not just settled but imminent. Mr Black couldn’t care less. Next week he’ll be back to praise the single market and its pivotal role in Scotland’s economy.