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Theresa May is recovering. She is now well enough to be angry, which anyone who has nursed a recovering invalid will know is a good sign.

The object of her fury is an elderly, bearded Labour Party Leader from Islington. If he were standing at the bus stop, he would look perfectly inoffensive.

But standing at the Dispatch Box, he becomes insufferable. He asks her rambling, incoherent questions, and never takes in her replies.

It is also evident he has not done his prep. “It might help if he actually read it,” she said in a cutting tone during today’s exchanges.

What document she meant, we are not quite sure. It is probably an official text of vital importance which we have not read ourselves.

But we do not aspire to be the next Prime Minister, and Corbyn does, or at least should. That is the point of the Leader of the Opposition: to be the PM in waiting to whom the country can turn in its hour of need.

May is dreadfully weak, and has just lost two votes by enormous margins, but Corbyn never gives the slightest sign that he could step in and do a better job.

Her voice strengthened as she pointed out that she wants to fulfil the referendum result, and so did he, once, but now he wants to frustrate it by holding a second referendum fixed in such a way as to overturn the result.

“I may not have my own voice,” she declared, “but I do understand the voice of the country.” Though not quite Elizabeth I at Tilbury, it was enough to flatten Corbyn.

Each week before these encounters her staff should tell her some irritating detail about Corbyn. She is better when she is angry with him.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer came on next. He began with the “cloud of uncertainty hanging over our economy”, but went on to report that the economy “is remarkably robust”. Here is another reason why the Government has not fallen.

We next enjoyed a contest between a Cavalier and a Roundhead, two parliamentarians of wonderfully different styles, each of whom has at least some of the gifts required to be PM, not that we wish to spoil their chances.

Michael Gove stood in for the Prime Minister, who sat beside him resting her voice and still looking, in profile, very fierce and aquiline, as if she would like nothing better than to seize the mouse-like Corbyn in her talons, carry him off to her eyrie and and tear him to pieces with her beak.

Corbyn, however, had fled, leaving Sir Keir Starmer to make the Labour case.

Disraeli once attacked Lord Salisbury as “a great master of jibes and flouts and jeers”, and that is the Tory tradition in which Gove belongs.

Anna Soubry, another exponent of that tradition but now on the Opposition benches, launched a furious and quite prolonged assault on the Conservative leaders, accusing them of whipping against the amendment proposed by Caroline Spelman, a former Party Chairman, and adding that this was “a shameful carry-on”.

Gove replied in his most insolent tone that she is a barrister, and “I also understand why lawyers are paid by the hour”.

Soubry rose in her wrath on a point of order and said that as a criminal barrister she was not paid by the hour, and had done a lot of pro bono work “under his cuts” – a reference to economies supposedly made when he was Lord Chancellor.

In order to show how bad No Deal would be, Gove sought to demonstrate that it would create great difficulties for farmers. The longer he went on about this, the clearer it became that the Government is intent on holding Meaningful Vote Three, an event already referred to by the knowledgeable as MV3, as if it were some rather uninspiring sports car.

Gove enjoyed baiting the Scottish Nationalists, whom he accused of “repetitious and self-serving chicanery”, and they enjoyed being scandalised by him.

Here is a minister who knows how to divert attention from whatever it is that he does not want to talk about. Another point in May’s favour is that she can see the need for quick, clever, flamboyant performers such as Gove and Geoffrey Cox.

Starmer is a gladiator cast in quite a different mould. He is a lawyer, and builds a case which is meant to impress by its massive and impregnable solidity, especially compared to the gimcrack points made by his opponents.

Mark Francois, a leading figure in the European Reform Group, intervened to accuse the Government of being intent on bringing back the Withdrawal Agreement for yet another Meaningful Vote. He bet Starmer £50, with the proceeds to go to Help for Heroes, that MV3 will take place on Tuesday 26th March.

“I don’t gamble,” Starmer said with a smile. Gambling would be at odds with his persona as the safe pair of hands. But for the time being, Brexit remains, just about, in the hands of May, with Gove and Cox as her knights errant.

30 comments for: Andrew Gimson’s Commons sketch: May is now well enough to be angry

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