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A majority is always better than the best repartee. So said Benjamin Disraeli, and so demonstrates his present successor, Theresa May.

How much happier she looked and sounded than she did last week. She seemed like a new woman, for on Brexit, she has a majority of no fewer than 36, attained in the vote on Monday night on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.

It is true that at the general election, she intended to gain a much larger majority than that, and suffered the humiliating reverse of losing even the slim one gained by her predecessor, David Cameron.

But thanks to the radical reduction in expectations caused by that failure, 36 now looks quite good. It gives her the initiative, which is fortunate for her, as she has never been accused, even by her most fervent admirers, of being a master of the best repartee.

Here is a Prime Minister who finds it much easier to wield the bludgeon than the rapier. She knows in advance who her opponents will be. She also knows in advance what their weakest points are.

So quite regardless of what Jeremy Corbyn, or Ian Blackford, the SNP leader at Westminster, or Vince Cable, who now leads the Lib Dems, actually asks about, May responds by bringing her bludgeon crashing down on the frailest part of their anatomy.

Corbyn asked about the dropping of the pay cap, and pointed out the swift changes in the Government’s position which appear to have occurred in recent days.

For a tantalising moment, it seemed this most undashing of figures – has anyone ever called him a musketeer? – might be about to astonish us by wielding a rapier. For he asked the Prime Minister “what the position is at midday today?”

May fenced with him for a moment or two. She produced the remarkable assertion that a police officer who started work in 2010 is now £9,000 better off, or 32 per cent in real terms.

But soon she reached for her trusty bludgeon. She accused Corbyn of not yet mentioning the employment figures: a true point, for those were not what he was asking about.

Crash! The bludgeon descended on his head. Unemployment is at the lowest level since the mid-1970s. A lethal note entered the Prime Minister’s voice. She is not as ferocious as Margaret Thatcher, but takes the same pleasure in ramming home simple truths which do not fit her opponents’ world view.

Corbyn switched to tuition fees, for which he blamed “her party and the Liberal Democrats”. From a tactical point of view, this looked a bit questionable: Corbyn ought surely to be trying to speak for the entire Opposition, not singling parts of it out for attack.

May bludgeoned back at him: “Who was it who introduced tuition fees? It wasn’t the Conservative Party. It was the Labour Party.”

A crude but effective blow. For it reminded everyone that Corbyn and his followers regard their party’s former leader, Tony Blair, as the devil incarnate.

Blackford, who looks as if he has the makings of a debater, asked about annual wage growth. May bludgeoned him aside by condemning the SNP’s record in running the Scottish economy.

Cable accused May of being “paranoid” about fruit-pickers who want to come here to work, while being “biddable” to big business.

She bludgeoned him by saying how typical it was of a Lib Dem to say “one thing before the election and another thing after the election”.

These tactics are not the highest form of wit. They are in fact extremely dull, but for May, that is part of their attraction. She takes the heat out of PMQs by making it a less exciting spectacle.

And she also takes the heat off herself. For she feels at ease with what Kipling called “The Gods of the Copybook Headings”. Here is a Prime Minister who is not trying to be too clever by half. The voters might end up liking her for it, and meanwhile, her MPs are grateful for what they can get.

26 comments for: Andrew Gimson’s PMQs sketch: May looks far less vulnerable than she did last week

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