It was a funny sort of farewell gig. Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn played all the classic tunes closely associated with their PMQs partnership – You’ve Failed (No You Have); Both Our Manifestos Sucked; Don’t Look Behind You – but the problem was that none of them were actual hits that anybody really wanted to hear again. The crowd jeered and cheered a bit at the allotted times, but even they didn’t seem to be doing more than going through the motions.
If anything, it seemed to be shaping up more as a stultifying reminder of why the last three years have been such a low point in the history of Prime Minister’s Questions. The erosion of May’s confidence long ago eliminated the chance of any newly memorable moments like 2016’s “Remind him of anybody?”, and Corbyn’s slow but steady improvement in the Chamber elevated him from inept to merely dull and thereby denied us any hope of more inventive errors like the time he forgot to ask a question at all.
The bulk of today’s final show rehearsed that rather beige history – the performers leaned upon one another, slowly trudging in a circle while mumbling blandly predictable lyrics into their microphones. To go out on such a note would be apt but depressing, particularly for a Prime Minister who most in Westminster know can do much better, and has even sparkled in the right circumstances.
But then, as they wound down into their final exchange of question and answer, May sprung her trap. It seemed that she was preparing a matronly act of generosity towards Corbyn when she noted their differences, compared their careers on front- and back-benches, and paid tribute to his dedication to his constituency. Were we about to see a moment of mushy affection from her to him? For that matter, would the Labour leader be willing to accept such a gesture?
We’ll never know. As soon as the outgoing Prime Minister had played out her lulling melody, even raising a soft smile from her opponent, she struck: “…as a party leader who has accepted when her time is up, perhaps the time has come for him to do the same.”
Ouch – maybe they could call that song No Love Lost. As she sat down, it inspired in her colleagues a genuine cheer, and a few thoughts of “Where’s that Theresa May been hiding?”
Of course, there’s comfort for Corbyn in the undeniable fact of the situation. May is the second Prime Minister he has faced and survived, after all, and yet he is still there – unremarkable and not contributing a lot, like a big stone or a particularly persistent moss, but still there nonetheless. It’ll be his third opponent who now faces the challenge of shifting him.