PMQs Review: The one with the trailer for the election campaign

Boris Johnson appearing at prime minister's questions in the House of Commons (pic: Parliament)

Boris Johnson appearing at prime minister's questions in the House of Commons (pic: Parliament) - Credit: Parliament

Today's PMQs looked very much like the next six weeks in microcosm. It's going to be a long campaign

71 minutes. 71 minutes, this week's prime minister's questions lasted. That's seven minutes longer than the previous record. Why did speaker John Bercow let it drag on so long? Well, it was his last one, and MPs all wanted to pay their obsequious tributes (again).

Thus we had a tortured tennis analogy from Boris Johnson, who variously dubbed the speaker an "uncontrollable tennis ball machine" with a "trademark Tony Montana scowl" who had enjoyed "the longest retirement from Frank Sinatra".

"I hope you will indulge me for a moment while I say a word about you?," enquired Jeremy Corbyn to Bercow. "I'm sure you will." And he did. "You and I will celebrate Arsenal beating Liverpool tonight," Corbyn said of the Rumbelows Cup tie. Bercow made a red-faced, rapid fist-punching movement which looked very, very wrong.

But then came the meat of the session, the battle between the leaders. And we got, in effect, a trailer for the forthcoming general election campaign. Except trailers usually try to include something to draw you in - and this was terrible.

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In fact you can cut and paste much of last week's PMQs Review in here. Internal polling must show Labour that NHS privatisation, as much as that is a thing, and the "Trump trade deal" are getting serious cut-through with voters as that can be the only reason for Corbyn for going in on it exclusively for the second consecutive week.

Corbyn said the NHS was "up for grabs" to US corporations in a "Trump-style trade deal", adding: "Our health service is in more danger than at any other time in its glorious history because of his government, his attitudes and the trade deals he wants to strike."

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Johnson said of the choice facing voters: "It's between economic catastrophe under the Labour Party, a £196bn programme taking money away from companies and putting it on his re-nationalisation programme, putting up taxes on corporations, on people, on pensions, on businesses, at the highest level in the whole of Europe." And there's much of your election campaign right there.

One bit was odd. Corbyn quoted a letter from a woman, Gillian, whose mother died in February "as a direct result of the GP shortage in the UK", with MPs hearing her last years were "marred by long waits for treatments and interventions". Johnson's reply included that "it's all very easy to be an Islingtonian protester and say that you side with Russia over what happened in Salisbury". It was obviously something he was determined to get in, but it just sounded mad.

The highlight of the session was undoubtedly the magnificent Jess Phillips in a delicious tribute to Bercow. "It's a delight to see your children here watching today because I know that, while you have a responsibility to Parliament, you take your responsibility as a parent very seriously also.

"And now, to the prime minister...". EPIC BURN, as the young folk say [Note to subs: check the young folk still say this].

Conversely, the most idiotic came from Huw Merriman (Conservative, Bexhill and Battle), a backbencher notable for very little. First he mocked Corbyn for not, unlike he and Bercow, wearing an Arsenal tie. Corbyn was wearing a green tie to mark Grenfell.

He then asked: "Would the PM agree with me that, when it comes to both football and politics, the owner of the number 10 berth is key to success, so would he rather see a centre-right dominant leader sweeping all before him domestically and in Europe, or should we look towards the left-wing where we might see a misfiring striker more at home in the 1970s?".

He looked very pleased with himself, but he shouldn't: first, even among toadying PMQs, asking the prime minister whether he thought he or the leader of the opposition should be in Downing Street is particularly woeful, but more importantly, why would a striker be playing on the left wing? No wonder he's misfiring.

Finally Sir John Hayes (Conservative, South Holland and the Deepings), a particularly unpleasant hardline Brexiteer, rose to tell Johnson that "hard-working British patriots that voted to leave the European Union with fresh eyes have in their sights the bourgeois liberal elite that are trying to steal Brexit from them". He pointed opposite, along with many of his fellow ERG-ers, bellowing "there they are, there they are".

"In their sights"? An MP was murdered during the referendum campaign. Ugly stuff, and there are six more weeks of this fare.

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