If you wanted an illustration of the different emotional states of the two main parties, you could do a lot worse than to watch the humble address speeches just given by two Tory backbenchers in the Commons following the Queen’s Speech. While Tracey Crouch and Eddie Hughes cracked jokes and had their colleagues in stitches as if at a pantomime, the Labour benches looked as though they were about to go to a funeral. Many Labour MPs who managed to win their seats again are still in a state of numb, angry grief about the friends they lost and about what has happened to their party. The thought of laughing is just too much.
Some Labourites found Crouch’s speech in particular very funny, and they were mostly the backbench MPs who have been working cross-party on various things and whose friendship Crouch praised, before saying she missed those who had lost their seats. Crouch is popular across the house and she urged new MPs to work with those from other parties as that is when the ‘House is at its best’. She also set out some of her own tests for a One Nation Conservative government, including parity of esteem in the treatment of mental and physical illnesses, and showing ‘mercy and altruism’ in policy.
She mocked some of her own colleagues including former Chancellor Philip Hammond for being the Commons equivalent of Ebeneezer Scrooge, and Dominic Raab for confessing he hadn’t realised how important the Dover-Calais crossing was to trade. But she also teased Jeremy Corbyn, who wasn’t able to raise a laugh, preferring instead to sit in a silent huff. John McDonnell did enjoy the jokes and glanced repeatedly at Corbyn to check why he wasn’t laughing too.
The melancholy on the Labour benches would lift much quicker if Corbyn weren’t the one still leading the party’s response to government events. Instead, he gave a characteristic speech summing up today’s programme for government. In a section that will infuriate those behind him – and those who haven’t returned still more – he even called on the Commons to take a moment to think of the trauma that losing MPs would be experiencing. This rang rather hollow given he hasn’t got round to calling a number of them to check they are ok, and today only managed to say he missed Dennis Skinner out of all those who lost a week ago.
He continued with his election themes of the NHS being taken over by Donald Trump, of poverty and of what is now quite clearly a destructive ambiguity on Brexit. The Labour benches looked miserable when the Tory MPs were speaking, but that’s nothing compared to their long, sad faces when the man who insists on still leading them started speaking.