Expert View

Corbyn fluffs prime minister’s questions yet again

by Denis MacShane | 06.12.2017

Denis MacShane is a former Minister of Europe and was a Labour MP for 18 years.

When Tony Blair was leader of the opposition, he thought his gladiatorial exchanges on Wednesdays with the then Tory prime minister were the most important six to seven minutes of the political week. By contrast, Jeremy Corbyn is missing the chance again and again to tear into Theresa May about the incoherence, incompetence and internal chaos of its Brexit policy.

Today’s prime minister’s questions (PMQs) were a case in point. Here is a Tory government that is more dysfunctional and divided than at any time in a century. Cabinet ministers are openly at war with each other. By common agreement, the prime minister is the weakest to occupy Downing Street since Neville Chamberlain in April 1940.

There are powerful voices from Tory backbenchers who openly condemn cabinet Brexiters’ cynical posturing. On top of it all, the government’s plan for breaking the deadlock in the talks with the EU is coming unstuck because it relies on an unsavoury deal with Northern Ireland’s DUP.

This should be heaven on earth for Corbyn. Yet he failed to land a blow on May today. Indeed, in the 18 months since Brexit, he has failed to trip up or embarrass the prime minister – or get the House of Commons and the nation laughing at and deriding her. Think of what a Blair or a Harold Wilson or even a Gordon Brown would have done to such a perfect target.

To be sure, Corbyn faces two major problems. He is not himself at ease with the idea of the modern, progressive EU; and many core Labour voters voted for UKIP in the European Parliament elections in 2014 and then voted Brexit two years later.

But it is perfectly possible to respect that vote and point out that the facts have changed dramatically since last June – and to explain that an incompetent Tory Brexit is putting working people’s jobs and livelihoods at risk. A half-decent speech writer could give Corbyn lines for PMQs that would expose the incoherence of Absurdistan Brexit and its cheerleaders in the cabinet.

The young people who voted for Corbyn in June and who swoon chanting “Ooh, Jeremy Corbyn” came to Labour in anger at the dishonesty and lies of the rich, elderly, English nationalists who paid for Project Lies that won the Brexit vote.

The opposition’s duty is to oppose – to expose the government for the dreadful damage it is doing to our economy and our reputation internationally. Corbyn can make a mark now by calling for a new consultation with the people once the outline of the Article 50 agreement is known. That is not a second or re-run referendum but a completely new indicative vote which the people are entitled to as they consider all the new facts that have emerged since the spring of 2016.

But Wednesday after Wednesday goes by with Theresa Houdini May escaping free as the leader of the opposition refuses to lay, let alone spring, a trap.

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Edited by Hugo Dixon

4 Responses to “Corbyn fluffs prime minister’s questions yet again”

  • That was a party political broadcast on behalf of the Lazy Mindless Bellends Who Hate Corbyn.

    We hope to return you to some intelligent coverage soon.

  • Well Phillip tell us what points JC has scored against May over Brexit. Because I for one agree with McShane that he is losing a real opportunity to show real leadership in the biggest change this country has undertaken in the modern world

  • I absolutely detest the notion of PMQs as a boxing match and do not expect Corbyn to “land a blow”, nor would I expect Theresa May to register it if he did. Tory response to any criticism is to tough it out by ignoring it. What goes on in the chamber is largely irrelevant posturing anyway.