Best mates on Brexit, deadly foes on everything else. The highly suspicious search for a Lab/Con Brexit accord was suspended today as the party leaders exchanged blows at PMQs. These covert ‘talks’ are clearly a blackmail effort contrived in Downing Street. By threatening her MPs with a Labour-backed Customs Union, Theresa May hopes to secure their support for her thrice-rejected withdrawal agreement. It might just work.
The EU wasn’t mentioned at PMQs but the Labour leader found alternative sources of distress.
‘Things are getting worse,’ he crowed at the Prime Minister as he ran through a hit-parade of sob-stories: inequality, malnutrition, rising crime, falling police numbers and care-home failures. There’s never a dearth of gloom when Jezza opens his gob. Bad news puts a spring in his step.
He mentioned that life expectancy has fallen for the first time since 1945. And he scored a hit. May locked herself in a syntactical time-machine.
‘It is not the case,’ she said, ‘that people are expecting to live shorter lives than they have done in the future’. She meant ‘in the past.’ But Corbs failed to exploit the boob. He revealed that life expectancy has shrunk by just ‘six months’. Well, that’s not too bad is it? And if everything is ‘getting worse’ under the Tories then a fall in longevity must mean a rise in the overall sum of human happiness. Mr Jezhnev should be urging Mrs Dithers to bump off more of us, pronto.
‘Things are getting worse,’ he intoned yet again. He found this soundbite so inspiring that he used it five times in all. And he dug his knife into an agonising Tory wound: foodbanks.
As a preamble, he mentioned that the UK is ‘one of the richest countries on earth.’ He always refers to Britain’s prosperity as if it were a shameful and debilitating abnormality whose cure he is about to submit to the Nobel Committee. He grumbled that the PM presides over a nation where ‘14m meals go to people in work who haven’t got enough to eat.’
May was in trouble before she started. ‘The best route out of poverty,’ she chirped. ‘No NO!!’ shrieked Labour’s backbenchers, fed up with her stock answer that employment cures all ills. She was saved by the Speaker who quelled the hecklers and gave her time to recover.
May feels unable to say what everyone knows: it’s unlikely that all recipients of food parcels are so skint that they sell their computers, cancel their wifi and terminate their phone contracts before accepting free grub. Some at least must regard food handouts as a beneficial side-effect of living in a mature economy.
The PM is in need of a ‘Foodbank Strategy’ or a ‘Special Advisory Unit’ or an ‘Overarching Trans-regional Inter-departmental Policy Task-force Executive’. These are the big rubbery phrases she uses to bounce difficult questions back at her interrogator. This happened when Paul Williams asked about crime in Stockton where a shortfall of 500 cops has led to vigilantes, (‘street patrols’ he said), monitoring urban areas.
The PM floundered horribly. She said that extra police were being recruited across the country (but not on his patch, clearly). And she referred in glowing terms to a conference held in Downing Street last month under the title ‘knife crime summit’. What use is that to Stockton – or anywhere? The only summit ascended that day by May and her team of alpinists was Mount Waffle. Since their epoch-making pow-wow our gutters have continued to run with fresh blood.