With Jeremy Corbyn away and Emily Thornberry apparently in exile, it was Rebecca Long-Bailey’s chance in the Labour spotlight
Poor Emily Thornberry. Previously so loyal to her constituency neighbour, Jeremy Corbyn, all she did was let slip her view that perhaps if Labour had been less ambiguously in favour of a second referendum they wouldn’t have got so comprehensively battered by the Liberal Democrats in last month’s European elections.
But let slip she did, so – while reports Corbyn was planning to sack her in a post-election reshuffle proved a little premature – the leader’s usual deputy for PMQs was shifted aside for Rebecca Long-Bailey, a more natural ideological ally. (For the party’s actual deputy, Tom Watson, to get a shift at the despatch box would presumably entail some sort of King Ralph-style freak accident.)
Theresa May, the soon to be little-remembered former prime minister, was in Portsmouth for the D-Day commemorations, so it was the turn of David Lidington, the pretty much officially-titled de facto deputy prime minister. And he had some fun with Thornberry’s absence.
“I feel slightly sorry for the Member for Islington South who I am used to jousting with, who seems to have been dispatched to internal exile somewhere else along the frontbench,” he said.
“The honourable lady [Long-Bailey] perhaps needs to watch out because I think there’s a lesson there that anybody who at the despatch box outshines the dear leader risks being airbrushed out of the politburo history at the earliest opportunity.” (An aside: Lidington himself will almost certainly be airbrushed from the Cabinet by whichever Brexiteer succeeds May.)
The flat-vowelled Long-Bailey, a sort of unlucky-in-love nursery school teacher in Coronation Street, did receive an audibly louder reception from her benches than the lukewarm one usually afforded Corbyn. And while, like her leader, she flitted between subjects – from US trade talks to climate change to the steel industry – unlike him, they at least came across as stitched together, rather than random flitting.
She told the chamber: “The president certainly seemed to think the NHS was on the table yesterday.
“So does the trade secretary, but who knows who speaks for the government at the moment and the prime minister did nothing to allay concerns yesterday.”
She said she also hoped May was “more forceful” in raising climate change with Trump during his visit to the UK.
Lidington said the PM did raise climate change with the US president, adding that “we are very proud of this country’s commitment to the international agreement to reduce global carbon emissions”, saying the UK has a better record than “any other G7 state”.
He also called on Long-Bailey to live in the “real world rather than ideological tracts”. Long-Bailey had previously been quoting statistics from noted revolutionary journal the, er, Financial Times.
Kirsty Blackman, filling in for SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford fared less well, not helped by going in on the same line of questioning as Long-Bailey. She did, though, get to mention that Scotland had the best-performing NHS in the UK, prompting an unidentified male colleague to holler “Now hear that, Tories!” across the chamber, words that couldn’t have been any more Scottish had he deep-fried them before tossing them to the opposite benches,
Waste-of-time planted question of the day came from Mark Harper, a former Tory chief whip now challenging for the wooden spoon in his party’s leadership race. With the Peterborough by-election tomorrow, he asked Lidington, shouldn’t people vote for the excellent Conservative candidate? Yes, yes they should, replied Lidington and we all emerged a few seconds closer to death and with five percent less dignity.
Finally, with a number of members wishing both the England and Scotland teams the best in the Women’s World Cup starting on Friday, Douglas Ross (Conservative, Moray) rose to ask Lidington to do similar for the British referees taking part. Ross is a FIFA-level referee himself in what Lidington, who is presumably 104 years old, referred to as “association football”.
This game, however, was decidedly 0-0.