Jeremy Corbyn began well. He accused Theresa May of “restoring parliamentary democracy while sidelining Parliament”, and went on: “It’s not so much the iron lady as the irony lady.”
The phrase is clumsy, but let us give credit where credit is due. He is trying, as the Leader of the Opposition should, to say in a few words where he thinks the Prime Minister is vulnerable.
He provoked a strong response. Last week we compared May to Miss Prism, but this week she was in Lady Bracknell mode. Leaning on the Dispatch Box, and turning her head on one side like an angry buffalo, she set out to gore her opponent: “I’ve got a plan – he doesn’t have a clue.”
Corbyn ploughed on gamely, and raised another good point: would she rule out paying any kind of fee for access to the single market?
But he wrapped his question up in a lot of other stuff, and although he remarked that she did not answer it, he let her off the hook by moving on to the NHS.
Lady Bracknell told him how she is going about things, and released another of her put-downs: “It’s called leadership. He should try it some time.”
So Corbyn had not made much progress, but at least he is starting to understand how PMQs works.
The Tory benches were generally supportive of the Prime Minister’s speech on Europe: she was praised by Chris Green (Bolton West) and, more strikingly, by Nadine Dorries (Mid Bedfordshire).
But Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) asked if the Prime Minister would consider issuing a White Paper on Europe, and Ken Clarke (Rushcliffe) wondered whether there would be an opportunity for the House to vote on the Government’s policies “earlier than two years away when the whole negotiation has been completed”.
He was heard with a respect which Corbyn is unlikely ever to command. May replied by pointing out that the decision of the Supreme Court, if it goes against the Government, will require legislation, but added with a touch of steel that the whole deal cannot be voted on until it has been negotiated.
She commands the House, and has grown in stature over the last few months, by demonstrating in her deliberate way that she has a grip on the Brexit negotiations.
But in the midst of political life we are in death, and one day – if the Thatcher precedent is anything to go by – her own party will do her in.