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Theresa May looked much more confident than last week, and so did most of her Cabinet colleagues. Before PMQs, Boris Johnson even ventured to exchange a joke with Philip Hammond across the somewhat less cheerful figure of Amber Rudd, who was sitting between them.

During PMQs, Damian Green actually ventured to share a joke with the Chancellor behind the PM’s back, while she was standing at the Dispatch Box.

And on both occasions, Hammond allowed a smile to cross his often rather wintry features.

How one longs to know the content of these witticisms. If a joke is good enough for Hammond, it is surely good enough for us.

But after a moment or two’s reflection, one comforts oneself with the thought that reproduced in cold print, the jokes might not seem in the slightest bit funny. One needs, probably, to hear Green’s or Johnson’s tone of voice to get the full comic effect.

And perhaps one needs also to be a member of a Cabinet which looked waterlogged, and low in the water, before the Brussels deal at the end of last week, but now evinces a new buoyancy. The laughter conveyed a kind of relief that the ship no longer seems doomed to sink beneath the choppy waves of Brexit.

It would, however, be wrong to give the impression that everything has changed. Although the Prime Minister is more confident, she is just as dull.

And so is the Leader of the Opposition. Jeremy Corbyn tried to harry her about homelessness and rough sleeping: a good subject, for in bleak weather to see so many of our fellow men and women in their sodden wrappings on our streets is a national disgrace.

Something must be done. But Corbyn brought no eloquence or urgency to this demand, and the Prime Minister bored her way to victory. Soon she was speaking of “looking at ways to encourage longer-term tenancies”, a formula which brought to mind her tenancy since July 2016 of a public-sector dwelling in a gated inner-city community in Westminster, benefitting (as estate agents like to say) from easy access to all the facilities of Whitehall, and 24-hour surveillance.

May is only the second woman in British history to have gained this tenancy – a point on which she touched in lighter exchanges towards the end of a long PMQs.

The trickiest point to arise – ignored by Corbyn but raised by the indomitable Anna Soubry – was what kind of say Parliament will have on the final deal with Brussels.

May repeated several times that there is going to be “a meaningful vote”, whatever that may mean. Her ability to deploy respectable but vacuous language is one reason why she got where she is today, and has managed to stay there.

She is the respectable tenant of Downing Street, which is why millions of people are content for her to remain in office. For while she will never set the Thames on fire, who wants an incendiary in charge of Brexit?

20 comments for: Andrew Gimson’s PMQs sketch: May is more confident, but just as dull

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