Recently-resigned prime minister Theresa May stood in for herself at Prime Minister’s Questions today, giving the whole exercise an even stronger air of ‘it’s all pretend’ than usual.
Michael Fabricant, speaking as though he had a mouth full of baked potato – and who’s to say he didn’t – leapt up to serve May with a planted question about the government’s industrial strategy, which she answered by saying, in essence, that it’s very good.
Corbyn then took his turn, asking – after making a deeply awkward-in-context tribute to Anne Frank – a question that had the magic effect of combining the large wealth of excellent ammunition he has to hand into a single, large non-sequitur.
“The country, Mr Speaker, is in crisis over Brexit. Manufacturing is in crisis. The prime minister’s government has brought us to this point, and now the Conservative Party is once again in the process of foisting a new prime minister on the country without the country having a say through a general election. This prime minister created the department for business, energy and industrial strategy in July 2016. Has the prime minister actually delivered an industrial strategy since then?”
This gave May a chance to gloat over Corbyn’s shameful lack of clairvoyance about Fabricant’s planted question getting picked roughly 63 seconds earlier.
“It’s quite obvious he’d written his question before he’d heard the answer from my right honourable friend the MP for Lichfield,” said May, which was received on her side of the house as a colossal victory.
“Well Mr Speaker, the answer she gave had a sort of unreality about it all really,” said Corbyn, unwittingly describing the last three years.
Finding a previously-untapped supply of clarity, he pointed out that since the department had been set up, there are 147,000 fewer industrial workers, and March and April has seen the largest fall in manufacturing output for two decades. “Honda, Vauxhall, Ford and Nissan have all announced UK job losses,” he said. “Does the prime minister think the department for industrial strategy has been good for that industry?”
This is when May welcomed in the unicorns. “I think this reveals an awful lot about him and the Labour Party’s approach to these issues.”
The point of the industrial strategy, she said, is to make sure the economy is dependent on the “jobs of the future” – not irrelevancies like, er, making cars.
Artificial intelligence and “data” will underpin the work the government is doing in, seemingly, everything else, she said, adding that she had gone to speak at London Tech Week “to welcome the tech unicorns developed in London, the five tech unicorns developed in Manchester.”
It seems that the government is more unicorn-dependent than ever previously imagined.