Another 45 minutes where everything except Britain’s gravest peacetime political crisis got an airing.
PMQs ahead of local elections are usually a non-event as the main parties hope to focus minds – and the producers of the evening news programmes – on the bread-and-butter matters which can decide council polls. So in a way it’s perhaps unsurprising this was such a turgid affair.
But then this PMQs is also looking like a precursor to Britain’s participation in a European election it was not supposed to be taking part in. So one might think the reason behind that – Theresa May’s continuing inability to sell her unloved Brexit deal – to play a more prominent role.
It started off on Brexit. Craig Tracey, an obscure Tory no-dealer who looks like a provincial car dealer and almost certainly wears an oversized watch, stood to ask whether the prime minister would pursue an exit on WTO terms as the only way to deliver a ‘recognisable’ Brexit. May said she hoped her deal would be passed by Parliament, something she does increasingly in the manner of a soldier trained in coping with interrogation.
Jeremy Corbyn, who began by welcoming the successor to late MP Paul Flynn, awkwardly dubbing him ‘Frimm’, was not doing Brexit again today, though.
As stated last week, there is a method in this madness. Still in negotiations with the government, he can hardly lead on ‘this disastrous Tory Brexit’ unless he quietly follows it up with ‘which I’m going to continue to discuss how I can help getting through’.
But equally he is much more comfortable with local government funding cuts which his team can later clip for Facebook shares.
He said communities across the country had been ‘abandoned’, adding: ‘Official figures show that nine of the 10 most deprived council areas in this country have seen cuts almost three times the average of any other council.
‘Why has the prime minister decided to cut the worst-off areas in our country more than the most well-off?’
May said councils had more money available this year and a real-terms increase has been provided, adding: ‘[Corbyn] voted against that money being available.’
Corbyn later said that, under this government, 500,000 more children ‘have gone into relative poverty’, and, to cries of shame from the Labour benches, said: ‘In Stoke-on-Trent alone, 4,000 food bank parcels were handed out to children last year.’ Stoke-on-Trent has a full council election on May 2.
He also tried to do a call-and-response with his MPs, crying out areas – poverty, crime – which he said had risen, to chants of ‘up!’, except he got his rhythm wrong and at one point said ‘ip’ instead.
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford had a little more joy.
‘It is now one week since talks began between the Tory Government and the Labour Party,’ he said. ‘At any point during these talks, has a second referendum been offered on the Government’s side of the negotiating table? Yes or no?’
May responded: ‘My position on a second referendum and the government’s position has not changed. The House has rejected a second referendum two times. When we come to a deal, we will have to ensure that legislation goes through this House.
‘Of course, it may be there are those in this House who wish to press that issue as that legislation goes through, though my position on this has not changed.’
Which could be translated as: I don’t want a second referendum, but I suppose if you tabled it again and voted for it I’ll have to go along with it. Interesting.
Elsewhere, even some of the hardest Brexiteers had other things on their minds. Daniel Kawczynski, the Tory backbencher with a tendency to make a berk of himself, asked why schools in Shrewsbury were getting less funding than those in Hackney. Theresa Villiers, the former Cabinet minister who looks as surprised at the rest of us that she continues to find gainful employment, went on the closure of Barnet police station.
Finally Henry Smith, another backbench Brexiteer whose nine years in Parliament have been most notable for nobody noticing them, rose to warn against any long Brexit extension, saying it would cost the UK (scrawls on the back of a packet of fags) £1bn a month. May responded by saying that if her deal had passed the country would be out by now. Smith has repeatedly voted against it.
Scientists today published the first picture of a black hole. They could have just watched this.