If the morning after the night before is never a good look, the morning after the day before is even worse.
Fed up, lacklustre and sleep-deprived didn’t begin to cover how wretched Jeremy Corbyn looked: just about everything that could go wrong for the man who had never really wanted the top job in the first place had gone wrong in the past 24 hours. That much of the trouble was of his own making only added to the sense of despair.
When you’re in the middle of an existential crisis, the last thing you need is another outing under the spotlight, but the Labour leader had no choice but to return to the Commons for the weekly bunfight of prime minister’s questions. As he took his place on the front bench, Jezza looked a man diminished, as if the beating he has received had taken it out of him physically as well as mentally.
Nor would the seating plan have improved his mood. Corbyn is rapidly running out of cabinet colleagues with whom he sees eye to eye, but it was sod’s law to find Angela Eagle breathing down his right shoulder. Their whispered conversation was as brief as it was frosty.
“Would you care to explain why you dissed my sister by making Ken Livingstone co-chair of Labour’s defence review?” Angela snapped.
“I meant to tell her, honest,” Jezza whimpered. “It’s just that I had so much going on that I forgot.”
“Well Maria ain’t happy. And neither am I. We’re family.”
“I’m sure they’ll get on OK. What’s a Trident missile between friends?”
“Trouble. And talking of which, did you hear that Ken’s just gone and called Kevan Jones a depressed cry baby? Kevan and Luciana ain’t happy, either.”
Just as Corbyn realised he was faced with the prospect of sacking Ken within hours of appointing him, the speaker called him to the despatch box. Forced to play for time, Corbyn could do no better than ask the prime minister what travel arrangements he would suggest for people wanting to go to France.
David Cameron could scarcely believe his luck at being given the chance to repeat his statesman performance of the previous day. This time it wasn’t just the troublemakers on the Labour benches who were nodding their approval; caught off guard and unable to control his reflexes, Jezza nodded along too. Consensuality might be contagious.
The Labour leader’s aim gradually improved as the session went on, with a question about police morale and funding “from a taxpayer called John” – I’m saying nothing, but it’s always nice to get a name check – but his delivery remained downbeat and monotone.
One skill the prime minister has mastered is the ability to count to six, so he squeezed in another “shoot-to-kill” dig without fear of contradiction. Though he needn’t have been too worried as most of the contradictions – sorry, clarifications – have been all Corbyn’s.
All these exchanges were conducted in front of near silent opposition benches. Some Labour MPs now fear they are an endangered species: others, such as John Mann, just do the frightening. To be fair, Mann looks pissed off most days – a day not angry is a day wasted – but his fury has now intensified so much he has been forced to move seats from near the back to just behind Corbyn, the better to direct his basilisk stare at Jezza’s skull. Trepanning would be a less painful option for Corbyn.
The only moment of light relief for the opposition benches came when Jonathan Reynolds made fun of Dave’s letter to his council moaning about the government cuts. “As the new leader of the anti-austerity party, could the prime minister... ” His question was cut short by laughter. Including the prime minister’s. Corbyn isn’t the only one who can’t always control his reactions.
Dave tried to laugh off his laugh, but he has reason to worry. This time next week the chancellor will be making his autumn statement and if he screws up a third budget then Corbyn will be right back in the game.
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