Jeremy Corbyn looked like a prisoner of war who is determined not to fraternise with his captors.
He walked in stony silence from the Commons to the Lords for the Queen’s Speech. Beside him strode the genial figure of the Prime Minister, bestowing bashful smiles of pleasure on the crowds lining the route.
Corbyn would not unbend. He emitted a sense of grievance, a feeling of unfairness.
How was it that this bumptious, over-privileged Etonian had forged a link with the working class which he, who has devoted his whole life to upholding the interests of the proletariat, was unable to forge?
An Etonian! At this rate, people would start saying the next Labour leader should possess the charm which such bastions of privilege inculcate in their pupils, in order to enable them in later life to run the show, and avoid the never entirely absent threat of being strung up from the nearest lamppost.
Tony Blair went to Fettes, described sometimes as the Eton of Scotland, and proceeded to win three general elections for Labour in a row. One hopes Corbyn was not tormenting himself with that thought.
He is more likely to have been brooding on Seumas Milne’s instruction to stay on for as long as possible as Leader of the Opposition “for the good of the party”.
When Boris Johnson came to speak, he said Corbyn’s “sincerity is to be admired”. But although that sincerity was admirable when Corbyn was an independent-minded backbencher, as party leader it has proved a hindrance, for it means he looks like a sulky adolescent whenever he is required, as party leaders often are, to say things in which he does not wholeheartedly believe.
“Smile, Jeremy, it won’t kill you,” a Tory voice shouted as he sat looking miserable through a string of jokes made by Tracey Crouch (Con, Chatham and Aylesford) as she opened the debate on the Queen’s Speech.
But Corbyn would not smile. In his own speech he threatened us with “chlorinated chicken on our dinner tables” once Johnson has done “a toxic deal with Donald Trump”.
Johnson remarked that some of Corbyn’s colleagues feel badly let down by the voters, and wish to “dissolve the electorate and replace it with a new one” – a suggestion borrowed without acknowledgement from Bertolt Brecht, writing about the East German communist party.
There is a curious feeling in the Commons that a revolution has taken place, one with which many of us have yet to come to terms.
The Queen found herself obliged to say her Government will embark on an ambitious programme of domestic reform which “delivers on the people’s priorities”, a phrase later repeated by the Prime Minister.
He must know that to speak of “the people’s priorities” smacks of totalitarianism. Such language may be intended to show he has stolen Labour’s clothes, but sounds all wrong to Tory ears, arrogant, demagogic and ruthless.
Johnson’s ear for language is one of the things that raised him to his present eminence. He now wants to shock us into realising things have changed, and to play a joke on his opponents.
But it would be a relief if he were to stop talking, as Corbyn’s friends would, about the people’s government, and contented himself with Tory democracy.