Theresa May today sounded more at ease than she has in most of her appearances since she made the mistake of calling the 2017 general election. One reason why she lasted a long time as Home Secretary was that she was very good at making impregnably uncontroversial assurances.
This defensive technique she is beginning to transfer to whatever subject the rejuvenated and much improved Jeremy Corbyn, or indeed anyone else, chooses to throw at her. Tax evasion? She’s against it. Sexual harassment? This too she opposes, and in such blandly correct and competent tones that it’s hard to disagree with a word she says.
One of her heroes is Geoffrey Boycott, and watching her in this vein is a bit like watching him take the shine off the new ball at what could be the start of a substantial innings. No one could pretend this is an exciting process, but one can’t help feeling a grudging admiration for the technique, the concentration and the utter subordination of such frivolous considerations as entertaining the spectators to the altogether more important aim of winning the match by wearing the bowlers down, so that in the end they get tired and dispirited and start to give away safe opportunities to score.
Damian Green sat at her side, looking rather more sombre than usual, but also demonstrating the continued existence of the Government. Here is a sombre team for sombre times. Only the Foreign Secretary wore, at frequent intervals, the air of a mischievous schoolboy.
Corbyn produced, on the subject of tax avoidance, the wonderful information that there are 957 business jets in the lsle of Man, “which seems a bit excessive for any island anywhere”.
But May replied that the Government “takes very seriously” the need to ensure that “tax loopholes are closed”. The closest she came to humour was when she added that “HMRC does rather want to collect tax”.
Where could Corbyn go? He should have told us something about yacht numbers. The last time we were on the French Riviera, many beautiful views of the sea were spoiled by a plethora of very big, very ugly yachts. How many of those are registered in the lsle of Man?