‘He should apologise!’ PMQs opened with a backbench question about anti-Semitism and Theresa May lobbed it straight at the Labour leader. She demanded that Jeremy Corbyn show contrition for joking that Jews in Britain ‘don’t understand English irony.’
Corbyn diffused the attack, a little clumsily, and said he deplored racism everywhere, ‘including the Conservative party.’ May didn’t press him on it. Corbyn had a decent script today. He prised open Tory divisions and he restated the latest hissy-fits between bickering cabinet members. He added a few croaks to the chorus of denunciation for the Chequers deal, and he finished with this.
‘When will she publish a real plan that survives contact with her cabinet and with reality? Those are, of course, two very separate concepts.’
There’s a gag in there, but a pause is needed after the question mark to bring it out. Corbyn hadn’t rehearsed his lines. He just ran the two sentences together and ruined a decent joke. His script-writers will go on strike if their noodle-headed boss keeps failing to give their lines the performances they deserve.
Next, backbench questions. The weekly quizzing of the PM is morphing into something else, something unparliamentary: a drop-in session for sob-story merchants. It happens constantly. An MP relates a constituent’s tale of woe and the PM responds with a perfectly insincere and often clunkily phrased expression of sympathy. Occasionally the question relates to a proposed change in the law. But usually the back-bencher is simply grovelling to his or her electorate.
A Tory backbencher asked about ‘blood cancer awareness day.’ Which is, at least, a worthwhile cause. Another cited a murder case that had led him to praise the ‘stoicism’ of his constituents as a whole. Which is sanctimonious baloney. A Home Counties MP sought a prime ministerial blessing for his daughter as she starts big school. ‘Enjoy your time at school,’ came the greetings-card reply, ‘because education is the key that unlocks the door to your future’.
MPs are forgetting that they’re hired to give us laws not cuddles. The worst offender was John Hayes who wants the poor to be buried at the expense of the slightly less poor. Lots of Tories support the policy of ‘state funerals for the underclass’ because it reduces the impact of the Nasty Party label coined by May. Mounting his soap-box Hayes proposed a new means-tested National Funeral Service.
‘It is not just our task or our duty,’ he quavered, ‘it is our mission to help to heal the broken-hearted.’
Embarrassing rhetoric, barmy politics. Phrases like ‘our duty’ and ‘our mission’ belong to the Victorian temperance-monger preaching abstinence to an East End pub. And Hayes must be a complete stranger to human psychology if he imagines that forcing bereaved parents to prove their inability to bury their own flesh-and-blood will ‘help to heal’ them.
Question of the day came from the discarded Brexiteer, Steve Baker. He hoped that the government’s priority is ‘domestic preparedness, whether we leave with a deal or not.’ May assured him that efforts were being ‘stepped up’. There are now, she gloated, ‘6,400 civil servants working on exiting the EU.’
Chilling news. Had this army of pen-pushers been recruited from the general population, roughly half of them would be opposed to Brexit. But they’re civil servants. So all 6,400 of them are likely to detest Brexit and to want it halted. Asking Whitehall to finalise the deal is like getting a hungry lion to look after a puppy-farm.