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Members of the Commons press gallery nowadays mutter gloomily to each other as they came out of  PMQs that it has become more than a duty than a pleasure. It certainly goes on for far too long.

In the pre-Blair era, it happened twice a week, for a quarter of an hour each: a real pressure on the performers to be pithy.

Tony Blair swopped that for a single session of half an hour, and John Bercow allows that to stretch to up to 50 minutes. Brevity is the soul of wit, but the pressure to be brief has gone, and the great issues of the day are no longer reduced, as on the front page of a brilliant tabloid newspaper, to a few words.

So this column would like to declare solidarity with Sir Desmond Swayne, who earlier this week was filmed going to sleep while Ken Clarke was talking about Europe.

If one cannot have a nap in the Chamber, where can one have a nap? My dear departed colleague Simon Hoggart, sketchwriter for the Guardian, would come into the Commons press gallery each day for a short nap after lunch, and in moments of wakefulness would open his fan mail.

He had the knack of returning to consciousness a moment before anything dramatic took place, while slumbering through the dull bits.

Sir Desmond today arose to a roar of appreciation. He said there was a question which “keeps me awake at night”. It wasn’t a particularly sparkling question, but he had shown he could take a joke.

Jeremy Corbyn forgot to end one of his interventions with a query, which enabled Theresa May to retort: “I’m very happy to answer questions when the Right Honourable gentleman asks one.”

Corbyn almost choked with anger as he insisted he had asked whether the Government thought Carillion had been negligent or not.

Why in particular had the position of “Crown Representative” remained vacant?

The Prime Minister said other perfectly competent people had filled in while the new Crown Representative was being appointed.

Corbyn, still very cross, said there is “one rule for the super-rich” and “another for everybody else”. He spoke with feeling of the difficulties of the small businesses who were Carillion’s sub-contractors.

It is unusual to hear Corbyn leap to the defence of small business, and May insisted that Labour opposes “the private sector as a whole”.

The Prime Minister is rather good when she starts, in the manner of a latter-day Margaret Thatcher, to offer lessons in economics for beginners to the Leader of the Opposition.

 

 

 

61 comments for: Andrew Gimson’s PMQs sketch: May has a future as a teacher of economics for beginners

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