Conservative MPs did not look nearly as loyal to Theresa May as one would think to listen to PMQs. Many sat in glum silence through the moments when they might have been expected to cheer.
There were times when the ironic cheers for the Prime Minister from Labour MPs were louder than any sound emanating from the Tory benches.
Kenneth Clarke, the Leader of the House, said it would be “unhelpful, irrelevant and irresponsible” for the Conservative Party to embark on a leadership contest. He was cheered with manic frenzy by Michael Ellis, who was sitting on the steps almost at Clarke’s feet, and who for much of the time appeared to be the only Conservative MP waving his Order Paper.
When Ellis is being sycophantic, he makes as much noise as 12 MPs who have a sense of shame. To be so dependent on him for decibels must be rather embarrassing.
Jeremy Corbyn is better than he was, and began with a pointed question about what concessions May had obtained on her continental tour yesterday. The answer is evidently none.
But Corbyn does not know how to create a crescendo. With him, the six questions he is allowed become a diminuendo. He did not put her under any real pressure,
The Prime Minister showed fighting spirit. She was, however, on rather thin ice when she wondered “what U-turn comes next in Labour’s policy” on Europe. In the week she pulled the meaningful vote, she is not in a strong position to talk about U-turns.
Her handlers had provided her with a good line about “the inconstant Gardiner” who will let us know what Labour policy is – a reference to Barry Gardiner, who enjoys his role as a Labour spokesman very much more than his listeners do.
Immediately after PMQs, we learned that May has promised she will step down before the next general election. It appears she has bought her colleagues’ reluctant support by promising she will not be there for much longer.
Rather touchingly, her husband, Philip May, had come to watch her performance from the gallery. It was watched also, from the far end of the Chamber, by Boris Johnson, who was sitting next to Nadhim Zahawi.
There was a sense that this was the end of an era, not the start or continuation of one. When the Conservatives refresh themselves with a new leader, it will be hard for Labour to avoid following suit.