Jeremy Corbyn raced towards an open goal. The crowd were cheering him on, for they too reckon a tax rate of three per cent tax is absurdly low for a company like Google which is rich beyond the dreams of avarice.
Those of us watching the match live from the press gallery hoped (despite many disappointments in the past) that Corbyn would score. An unbroken series of victories for David Cameron lacks the element of the unexpected which might make people want to read our reports.
Corbyn took his shot. He asked whether Cameron thinks an effective tax rate of three per cent is right or wrong.
Cameron moved the goal posts. He pointed out that three per cent is higher than the company paid under Labour, when “the tax rate for Google was zero per cent”.
Corbyn now introduced us to “a gentleman called Jeff”. We couldn’t help feeling this was a diversion, and the Tory benches emitted the derisive cries of which, by long practice, they have acquired complete mastery.
“Now you might well laugh,” Corbyn retorted, “but Jeff actually speaks for millions.”
It occurred to us that Corbyn is the one who should be speaking for millions. He should be saying that any normal person, who year after year pays far more than three per cent tax, will think Google has got off scot free.
But Corbyn attributed these views to Jeff. This rhetorical trick sounds more and more evasive, and the Leader of the Opposition should drop it.
Cameron said Jeff’s taxes are coming down, while corporation tax receipts are going up. He added, rather unkindly, that if Corbyn wondered what had gone wrong in the past, he might start by calling Tony Blair, whom he would find at J.P.Morgan.
The Prime Minister also said how useless Corbyn and John McDonnell would be at running anything, and remarked in a scornful tone that “they met up with a bunch of migrants in Calais and said they could all come to Britain”.
In the press gallery, journalists asked each other whether the expression “a bunch of migrants” was quite the thing. This question of taste was the main talking point to come out of the exchanges so far.
Corbyn, one of whose faults is to stick to his script almost regardless of what Cameron has said, switched to a complaint about the bedroom tax. Cameron retorted that the bedroom tax is fair, getting rid of it would cost two and a half billion pounds, and “Jeff will pay for that”.
So it is our reluctant professional duty to report that Cameron won these exchanges, despite having received a bad press about Google for the last three or four days.
I used, by the way, to be taught by a Latin master called Jeff: a man of ferocious intelligence, who never pretended to speak for millions. But he went off and joined UKIP, which is most likely where Corbyn’s Jeff will be heading too.