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The general election has made the House of Commons more interesting. Because no one knows what is going to happen to Theresa May, her performances become of greater moment, and so do those of Jeremy Corbyn.

She rose to the most solid cheer I have ever heard her receive. The Tory tribe was behind her today: especially because Mr Corbyn had just spoken.

Could he become her greatest ally? It is too early to say. In his demeanour, he is strengthened by Labour’s greatly increased vote. Everyone has to take him more seriously, and he knows it.

He spoke at length about the Grenfell House fire. The emotion raised by that horror, and by the terrorist attacks in Westminster, Manchester, London Bridge and Finsbury Park, all raised the temperature in the House too.

The Labour leader took very few interventions: a policy which made him look defensive, as if he feared being derailed. But it is also possible that his refusal to play the parliamentary game by the accepted rules will bolster his reputation as an anti-Establishment figure to whom the discontented will flock.

For he retains his air of a grumpy teenager: in its way, an impressive feat for a man of 68. He conveys a resentful sense that the grown-ups are picking on him, and will never understand the essential goodness of his ideals.

Mrs May is one of those uncomprehending grown-ups. She took lots of interventions, and dealt with them all in a perfectly competent way.

She is not witty, and the expression of deep emotion does not come naturally to her, but today she had the decency and good sense to sound as well as look chastened.

She apologised for the inadequacy of the initial response by the state to the Grenfell fire: an admirable admission.

She also reminded us that at the Dispatch Box, she is a formidable performer, difficult to get the better of: one of the gifts which helped her to remain Home Secretary for so long, and which could now help her to remain Prime Minister for longer than most people expect.

Mr Corbyn ended by insisting that Labour are “not merely an Opposition – we are a government in waiting, ready to offer real strong and stable leadership”.

Those are big claims, which will be tested for as long as he remains Leader of the Opposition.

Mrs May deplored the “attack on British Muslims as they left their place of worship at a sacred time of year”, condemned Islamophobia, and paid tribute to Mr Corbyn for his work after the attack, as well as to the leaders of other faiths who had demonstrated their support for the victims.

She struck a more national and inclusive note than Mr Corbyn. But when a Labour backbencher asked why she is still here, she resorted to some thoroughly partisan arithmetic.

Which party, she asked, had got the highest percentage of the vote, 800,000 more votes, and 56 more seats?

Those statistics do indeed favour the Conservatives, but also show Labour is within striking distance of victory. Perhaps that was another reason for using them.

At the end of her speech, she observed that “not every problem can be solved by an Act of Parliament”: an admirably conservative sentiment.

Perhaps it is a good thing that the Queen’s Speech had been purged of contentious measures. Brexit is quite enough to be getting on with.

Even with her friend Damian Green at her side, her position remains precarious. Many ministers look tired: they too are chastened.

But her position is not hopeless. Her fighting spirit is not extinguished, and we like to see our leaders working for their power.

92 comments for: Andrew Gimson’s Commons sketch: May displays enough fighting spirit to show her position is not hopeless

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