A festival of inertia at PMQs today. A party without a leader, a Government without a purpose and a Parliament without a programme. Theresa May, in Portsmouth for the D-Day commemorations, was understudied by David Lidington who looks like a maths professor but performs like a comedian.
His waggish streak is undermined by his gentlemanly dislike of mocking women. He blushed and giggled as he pointed out that Jeremy Corbyn’s regular deputy, Emily Thornberry, had been ‘despatched to internal exile somewhere’. Her crime, he teased, was to ‘outshine the Dear Leader’ at PMQs. In Corbyn’s place stood Rebecca Long-Bailey. Lidington warned that she too risked being ‘airbrushed out of Politburo history’ if her performance was deemed too effective.
‘He’s full of the banter today, isn’t he?’ said Long-Bailey, making her debut at PMQs. She has many talents and she knows it. Confidence, attack, a firm grip of her brief, and an easy way with a joke. Not a trace of nerves either. Her least attractive quality is her cold and rather sharp countenance which isn’t helped by her boffin’s spectacles. She looks like someone who might enjoy testing shampoo on rabbits. But her warm voice is engaging.
She led on climate change and she accused the Government of taking credit for decarbonisation policies introduced by Labour pre-2010. Then she contradicted her eco-philosophy by complaining that British Steel had been abandoned by the Tories. Steel is a highly-polluting industry and allowing it to collapse must be the greenest policy imaginable.
Lidington boasted about the Government’s successful pursuit of decarbonisation and he mocked Labour’s flip-flop attitude to coal. ‘They want to reopen the mines but not burn the coal they mine.’
Long-Bailey assured him that Labour would keep every coal mine firmly closed. Mrs Thatcher would have been proud of her.
Several MPs couldn’t contain their glee at Trump’s claim yesterday that the NHS would be ‘on the table’ during trade talks. His statement was corrected within hours but MPs seized on his mistake as if it were his final word on the matter. This falsehood helps them. The truth is useful only to their enemies so they ignore it. Kirsty Blackman, deputising for Ian Blackford, had a chance to shine today. She flickered at a low-wattage. Like many SNP members she addressed the house in a tone of pained condescension as if the Commons were an affront to her Periclean sensibilities.
She mentioned D-Day, she brought up climate change, she mentioned Trump’s NHS clanger and then she admitted that he’d corrected it. Then she pretended that he hadn’t corrected it so she could air her ‘threat to Scotland’s NHS’ theme. She sounded as if the health service were due to be floated on the New York stock exchange tomorrow morning.
Lidington advised her to focus on running Scotland’s health service rather than fixating on independence.
Blackman came straight back with a boast that Scotland has more GPs than any other part of Britain. ‘Fact!’ roared her colleagues. ‘Fact! Fact!’ No one pointed out that a proliferation of doctors means a proliferation of disease.
The notorious killer-gas known as CO2 was mentioned a lot today. Matthew Pennycook urged the Government to fill its legislative void by passing a bill that promises ‘zero net emissions’ by 2050. Then what? Once the magical ‘zero’ has been reached every tree in Britain will expire because CO2 is the compound that keeps plants alive.