PMQs Review: The one in which Jeremy Corbyn was competent four years too late
PUBLISHED: 13:40 12 February 2020 | UPDATED: 14:18 12 February 2020
Only four years late, Jeremy Corbyn today put in a vaguely efficient PMQs performance - at least suggesting a skilled successor could get under Boris Johnson’s skin
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Yes, just as he's working out the world's longest notice period, a notice period literally nobody was begging him to fulfil, Corbyn today showed he was capable of making a prime minister's head hurt by the unique tactics of asking probing yet unexpected questions delivered audibly and with the stress on the right words. Well done, Jeremy! Now, why are you still here?
But first a few words on the increasingly odd despatch box tics of Boris Johnson. Today he passed on the whole House's "deepest sympathies to all those affected by the weekend's flooding". So far, so prime ministerial. But then he delivered his "in addition to my duties in the House..." spiel in a weird, rapid-fire staccato, as if he's been learning public speaking from a sped-up YouTube clip of Liz Truss saying "That. Is. A. Disgrace" upon learning of British cheese import figures.
It's the verbal equivalent of his bizarre arm-stretching exercises standing alongside Leo Varadkar, or his constant putting his hand in his pocket for a pen which may or may not be there. Your correspondent is no psychologist, but it's almost certainly the actions of a man only determined to reach high office because his father never told him he loved him.
Anyway, to Corbyn, the raucous cheering of whom which greets his every appearance comes increasingly from the government benches. He went on a member-pleasing turn: the deportation of some 17 people described by ministers as foreign criminals who committed serious offences deported to Jamaica yesterday. But it took a twist exposing Johnson's soft underbelly, if that's not too distasteful an image.
"Does the prime minister think that someone who came to this country at the age of five and was the victim of county lines grooming and compelled to carry drugs, released five years ago and never re-offended deserves to be deported?," he began.
Johnson replied: "I think the whole country would agree that, while I cannot comment on individual cases, it is entirely right that foreign national offenders should be deported from this country in accordance with the law."
Corbyn said the Government had "learned nothing" from the Windrush scandal, adding: "This cruel and callous government is trying to mislead the British people into thinking it's solely deporting foreign nationals who are guilty of murder, rape and other very serious offences.
"This is clearly not the case. Take the example of a young black boy who came to the UK aged five and is now being deported after serving time for a drugs offence.
"If there was a case of a young white boy with blond hair who later dabbled in class A drugs and conspired with a friend to beat up a journalist, would he deport that boy - or is it one rule for young black boys from the Caribbean and another for white boys from the United States?".
Mic drop, as the young people say. The Tory benches groaned, but Johnson was visibly and audibly angered. This is not on! I'm funny old Bozza, the guy on the zipwire! If I wanted this sort of personal scrutiny, I'd have agreed to an interview with Andrew Neil!
"I think quite frankly that the right honourable gentleman demeans himself and by the way besmirches the reputation of the Windrush generation who came to this country to work in our public services, to teach our children in this country, to make lives better for people in this country," bellowed an even-redder-faced-than-usual Johnson.
"He has no right to conflate them with those foreign national offenders that we are deporting today."
It's all relative - for vast swathes of his time at the frontbench, a PMQs in which Corbyn's trousers didn't fall down would have been considered a triumph. But the ease of which, with the merest of topspin, he showed how the PM could be riled should give Labour members selecting his successor food for thought.
Should they go for a forensic, probing leader with a taste for the kill and the facts at their fingers? Or a Rebecca Long-Bailey/Long Bailey, looking for the Facebook clip and the Sqwawkbox headline? It is, unfortunately, up to them.
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