“I’m not going to bother with this any more.” So said a colleague in the Commons press gallery after Jeremy Corbyn’s lazy, limp, lacklustre effort this week.
The Leader of the Opposition has the penetrative power of a popgun. A cork emerges from his barrel and is brought up short by a string long before it gets anywhere near David Cameron.
“Do you think he ever has any training?” my colleague wondered.
But Corbyn does not think he needs training. He seems to think the gifts which made him a respected, if marginal, figure on the Labour back benches are sufficient now he is party leader, charged with raising his followers’ morale by inflicting some kind of damage or even humiliation on the Prime Minister.
A more responsible way to put this would be to say that Corbyn’s task is to hold Cameron to account. But Corbyn has got it into his head that his job is to read out emails from members of the public, regardless of whether these pose the slightest difficulty for the Prime Minister.
“I’ve got an email from Rosie,” Corbyn began. “She’s in her twenties.”
Already the Tories were laughing, and so was Rosie Winterton, Labour’s Chief Whip, who was sitting a few feet away, at the end of the front bench.
It had not occurred to Corbyn or his staff that there might be a confusion between the two Rosies. Already his performance seemed absurdly innocuous.
Corbyn’s Rosie is upset because she works incredibly hard at her job and still has to live at home with her parents.
It is a reasonable enough complaint. In London, where Rosie lives, the price of housing is astronomical. But what did Corbyn gain by attaching the name of this unknown young woman to his question?
Cameron was presented with a free hit. He recited some of what the Government is doing, which includes “cutting Rosie’s taxes”; wondered whether she might be eligible for a shared ownership scheme; pointed out how few council houses Labour built in 13 years; boasted that the present Government is building a lot more; agreed that far more needs to be done; and declared: “We’ve got to deliver for Rosie!”
Corbyn might as well go and drink cider with Rosie for all the good he is doing.
The Labour front bench listen to his performances with the animation they might show if they were sitting waiting for a bus and do not expect it to arrive for a long time yet. Perhaps they are waiting for a new leader.