Jeremy Corbyn’s task can rarely have been easier at PMQs. The knife-crime epidemic has filled our morgues with the bodies of youngsters slain for no reason. A lack of cops is behind the bloodletting. The headlines say it. Public opinion says it. The boss of the Metropolitan Police says it as well. All Corbyn had to do was identify the culprit.
‘Cop numbers are down. Are you abetting murder, prime minister?’
Simple as that. But instead of a personal query, he delivered a rambling, multi-topic speech that would have suited a book club for retired lady communists. He mentioned International Women’s Day. He touched on the gender pay gap. He drew attention to a south London MP whose mother once filled a deck chair on the Empire Windrush. And he offered his felicitations to a Liverpool MP who has just had a baby. Only then did he move to the bereaved families of the murdered kids. And he mentioned ‘an emergency meeting of COBRA’, (which sounds exciting but just means a few civil servants eating biscuits in ‘Cabinet Office Briefing Room A’.) And finally he got to his point, but instead of highlighting May’s role he asked about ‘extra funding’.
The prime minister, rescued for the umpteenth time by Corbyn’s incompetence, responded by taking the House on a scenic tour of the question. She began where he began with International Women’s Day. She aired her thoughts on a new book about female politicians by an MP from Leeds. Then she said well done to the England women’s football team who have just humbled the Japanese. When she got round to the mass stabbings, she evaded personal blame by speaking of ‘complex root causes’ and the need for ‘interventions’ in youngsters’ lives.
Corbyn next played his trump card, a fall in police numbers of 21,000. But he blew that as well by adding a second point about a gaffe by the defence secretary. The PM was free to choose which issue to answer.
She boasted that the police are being showered with ‘further resources’.
At this, the house went bananas. It was like a frat club toga party. Whoops and catcalls filled the air. But the PM re-stated her point with more than a hint of Hattie Jacques.
‘It’s no good saying ‘No, you’re not,’’ she hectored, with cartoon outrage. ‘It is a fact: more money is being put into the police this year.’ She moved on to 2020, selecting her words carefully, and said that ‘nearly a billion pounds’ would be ‘available’.
Rather than unpick this sophistry, Corbyn read out an irate letter from some grumble-bunny in Gosport. He ended by making the speech he had come to deliver. The carnage was caused by austerity, he said, by rising poverty, by youth centres being closed, by the privatisation of the probation service, and by cuts to mental health budgets. He gave the impression that stabbed kids are just a drama while sacked workers are a humanitarian crisis.
It seems that Labour’s only cure for the bloodshed is to put more Labour voters on the government payroll.
More than an embarrassment. This could be one of the greatest failures by a parliamentarian so far this century.