David Cameron struck a happier note today than in last week’s unequal and unsporting contest. He managed, without sounding feeble, to admit he is fallible.
So the Prime Minister referred, unbidden, to “my many unforced errors in the last 24 hours”. He also went out of his way to congratulate, twice, Sadiq Khan on becoming Mayor of London: an olive branch after the bitterness of the closing stages of the campaign.
This concession was not enough for Tim Farron, the Leader of the Liberal Democrats, who issued a self-righteous demand for an apology for what he claimed was the “disgraceful racist campaign” fought by the Conservatives.
To this demand that he grovel, Mr Cameron replied, with admirable brevity: “Well it’s a great way to end the session, getting a lesson in clean campaigning from the Liberal Democrats.”
That reply was received with as much pleasure on the Labour benches as by Conservatives. At several points, Mr Cameron used humour to defuse what might have been awkward exchanges.
So when Philip Davies (Con, Shipley) said he agreed with the Prime Minister’s comment, so inconveniently picked up by a broadcaster’s microphone, that Nigeria and Afghanistan are corrupt, Mr Cameron replied that “his tips on diplomacy are helpful”.
Jeremy Corbyn sounded more than ever like a schoolteacher who has lost his temper, and possesses neither the wit nor the authority to silence his tormentors. He wanted Mr Cameron to welcome an EU proposal to stop workers from one country undercutting the wages of workers in another.
Mr Cameron replied in a judicious tone that it would be necessary to study the detail of this proposal. In the EU referendum, he needs the support of Labour voters, and also of those who do not, in fact, object to such competition, so it suited him to antagonise neither group.
One was reminded that in the last Parliament, the Prime Minister was able to hold together a potentially fissiparous coalition for five years. He is quite good at that sort of thing, and if he can manage to do something similar between now and 23 June, he has a good chance of getting the referendum result he wants.