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GIMSON Andrew Krieg

With his final words, David Cameron commended “a progressive, One Nation, Conservative Government”. He did so in the bland, commanding tone of a Prime Minister who not only feels under no pressure from the Opposition, but sees considerable scope for hoovering up votes from that quarter.

For Jeremy Corbyn had just sunk himself. He began well enough, by paying tribute to the two Conservatives – Caroline Spelman (Meriden) and Phillip Lee (Bracknell) – who had opened the debate on the Queen’s Speech.

Mrs Spelman was sweet and honourable, while Dr Lee was rather amusing, as was Mr Corbyn’s response.

But then it all went wrong for the Leader of the Opposition. He spoke for 41 minutes, which was far too long, and he would take no interventions, which made it seem even longer.

The glum faces of his immediate neighbours on the Labour front bench – Angela Eagle, John McDonnell and Tom Watson – were a picture of inadequately concealed embarrassment. Mr Corbyn wasn’t good enough, either at picking holes in the Government’s programme, or at giving any indication that Labour would tackle these questions better.

Halfway through this lamentably misjudged performance, Jacob Rees-Mogg (Con, North East Somerset) rose on a point of order to observe that it is customary “to give way in speeches that last over 20 minutes”.

Mr Corbyn declined to take the hint. He is an obstinate man, which can be a good quality, but so often his mulish refusal to conform degenerates into self-righteous and puritanical deafness.

So Mr Cameron was able to make a good thing out of having the confidence and good manners to take interventions, not that anyone on his own side wanted to ask him anything hostile.

The Prime Minister was left free to propound the muscular liberalism which comes so naturally to him, and which made him sound, in the days when he himself was Leader of the Opposition, like the next Bishop of Bechuanaland.

There is still a note of muscular Christianity, or at least of Anglican asperity, to him when he discusses the extremists who must be stopped from radicalising young children by preaching jihad to them: “It’s not real liberalism to walk on by and pretend this isn’t happening.”

The Prime Minister did not try to explain how outlawing such behaviour can be reconciled with freedom of speech, but agreed, in response to an intervention by Rehman Chishti (Con, Gillingham and Rainham), that the definition of “extremism” in the forthcoming Counter-Extremism and Safeguarding Bill is indeed “the absolutely crucial point”.

For Mr Cameron, it would perhaps be more accurate to say that how one behaves is the absolutely crucial point. And today, with the thunder of the referendum debate momentarily quietened, he had everyone behaving exactly as he wished.

 

 

 

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