Carillion. It doesn’t help that the name resembles a kiddie’s word, like gazillion, suggesting an astronomical sum of cash. The sudden death of this lumbering giant gave Mr Corbyn an easy route to victory at PMQs. He didn’t take it. Corbyn outlined Carillion’s recent woes: the collapsing share-price, the short positions taken by hedge-funds, the profit warnings.
This seemed to amuse Philip Hammond. ‘Profit warnings?’ he muttered audibly, ‘companies issue profit warnings all the time.’ An odd boast for a chancellor to make. Mr Corbyn’s performance lacked bite and precision. He simply rambled his way through a long description of the government’s conduct. Either, he burbled, the government had awarded contracts to keep a failing company afloat, ‘or it was just deeply negligent of the crisis that was coming down the line.’ By ‘deeply negligent of’ he meant ‘oblivious to’.
Mrs May chopped this flabby speech to pieces. ‘I’m happy to answer questions when the honourable gentleman asks one. He didn’t.’
‘I asked if the government was negligent,’ he whined back.
He claimed the Tories were only interested in protecting the salaries of Carillion’s ‘super-rich’ bosses. In her defence, Mrs May said that the state is Carillion’s customer not its manager.
This was a staggeringly weak and disingenuous argument. But Mr Corbyn didn’t anticipate it, let alone pursue it. No matter how slack Mrs May gets she’s always out-feebled by hopeless Corbo.
Several backbenchers asked the PM to apologise in person to their distressed constituents. We heard of a 70-year-old woman who died after tangling with a shop-lifter. A voter in Manchester wanted an apology because his mental health clinic was inconveniently located. The SNP’s David Linden sought Mrs May’s statement of contrition on behalf of ‘Margot’ whose benefits had been docked and later restored.
One MP referred to a grisly murder in his constituency and invited the PM to extend her sympathies to the victim’s family. Mrs May did so but it’s clear that no purpose is served – other than creating a frisson of moral outrage in the chamber – by asking the PM to respond to arbitrary acts of brutality.
Carole Monaghan asked Mrs May if she endorsed the Pope’s moral verdict that ‘hostility to migrants is a sin’. The only religious authority to outrank the Pope is God Almighty himself, and it’s rather unfair to expect the British prime minister to anticipate the judgement of Heaven. She ignored the ‘sin’ question and waffled about Britain’s historic record as a sanctuary for refugees. She was in a chipper mood when she boasted about her most pointless initiative yet.
‘I’m pleased,’ she said, ‘the government has appointed a minister for loneliness.’
I doubt if the poor minister, Tracey Crouch, is thrilled to be lumbered with the job of ‘saddo tsar’. She’s now officially recognised as Britain’s foremost expert on awkwardness, social isolation, and being a misfit with no one to talk to.
The session ended in bizarre fashion with the prime minister looking forward to a knees-up in Downing Street, later today, where the top ‘loneliness campaigners’ will start to formulate a national strategy.
It’s hard to imagine anything sillier than state employees inviting each other to a party to discuss people who don’t get invited to parties.
Next week, they’ll end starvation by giving chubby people some cake.