The Quest for Green Day Tickets: October 19 PMQ Review

Each week our writers at the Dispatch Box will recap the always theatrical, sometimes informative tomfoolery that is Prime Minister’s Questions. For more analysis (and quite a fair few jokes) follow us on twitter at @thedispatchbox.

The honeymoon period is officially over for the Prime Minister. A middling performance at last week’s PMQ’s followed by a week of troubling headlines over Brexit has put Theresa May under a fair bit of pressure. She needed a strong performance today to rally the troops for the long slog towards initiating Article 50. Jeremy Corbyn returned to the dispatch box after a much-applauded performance last week. Labour have found some initiative, and with his cabinet reshuffle (hopefully) coming to a close, he can now fully devote his time to opposing the Tory government. He would have been hoping for a knockout blow today while knowing that perhaps his best strategy is to allow the Conservatives to self-implode under the pressure of their own agenda.

Me and Mr. Bone

In an exchange that can only be described as “blush worthy,” Peter Bone opened up PMQ’s hoping for a birthday song from the Prime Minister, only for her to respond that hopefully his wife would be able to “treat the occasion in the appropriate manner.” Unable to finish her thoughts due to the boisterousness laughter that followed, the Speaker intervened saying he “wanted to hear what’s coming next.” For a moment it was tough to determine whether we were watching parliamentary debate or commentary from a Michael Buble concert.

May’s greatest strength at the dispatch box is her ability to connect with the overwhelming Boy’s Club atmosphere that tends to define these proceedings, and her repertoire of jokes now seems to include sexual innuendo. Hopefully Mrs. Bone was watching, or for his sake, hopefully she wasn’t.

Corbyn Chooses NHS Funding

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was Corbyn’s choice of questions for the PM. Rather than heading down the familiar route of questioning the Tories’ seemingly endless list of gaffes regarding Brexit, Corbyn chose to question the PM on the funding gap in the NHS. It seemed to catch May off guard, and although she came into her own as the debate unfolded, in the early exchanges she seemed wholly unprepared for Corbyn’s choice of NHS funding as the focus for their debate.

Polls this week indicate that the public believes Labour has the best policies on the NHS, but the Conservatives have the best policies on taxation, public spending, and the economy. By choosing the NHS and focusing on the mismanagement of the organization’s finances, Corbyn aptly used an issue with which he has influence in an attempt to change public perception on the Tories as the only party capable of handling economics. It’s a strong move by Corbyn, and the second time in two weeks he has used PMQs to attempt to turn the tables on public perception. For this he’s earned the rapier of the week.

In truth, though, May will be happy Corbyn didn’t elect to discuss Brexit. Her foreign secretary is speaking awful Italian in the House of Commons, business leaders are leaving her voicemails with questions about their prospects, the sterling is in free fall, and worst of all, Marmite is being removed from Tesco shelves across the country (is it Marmitegate or Marmageddon though?). For May, a break from Brexit was much needed, and though she struggled at first, she found her talking points. She did earn the sledgehammer of the week, however, by returning to the oft-used argument spouted by Tories that Labour are the only party cutting funding to the NHS. Polls suggest that the general public simply do not believe this line anymore.

Nigel Adams Likes Green Day…

… And his one big complaint about the free market is his inability to buy tickets to their concerts. I would put it to Nigel Adams that the free market may have done him a huge favor in refusing him tickets. When was the last time this band was relevant? 2004? It should be noted that the Conservatives are so often defenders of the free market in the face of NHS, infrastructure investment, and general economic policy. But what really pushes them for state intervention? Ticket touting. For a Green Day concert.

Boris Johnson’s Eyebrows

If I have one criticism of CSPAN’s coverage of PMQs, it’s that they haven’t yet considered including a “Boris Johnson Cam” during their broadcast. It wouldn’t need to be large and they could just stick it in the bottom right corner. The audience needs to know the facial expressions that Boris Johnson is making in real time so they can know how to feel about who is speaking. After this week’s revelation of a secret article written by Johnson advocating for remaining in the EU, however, can we take his word (or even his eyebrow twitches) at face value? There’s also the following gem of Johnson attempting to speak Italian during this morning’s session at the House of Commons. I just wonder if one of his aides can help him download Duolingo.

Labour and Anti-Semitism

Towards the end of the session, Conservative MP Oliver Dowden brought forward the issue of anti-semitism in the Labour Party after a parliamentary report stated that Corbyn “does not fully understand the nature of modern-day racism against Jews.” Dowden will undoubtedly receive political points from May for raising the question, as it allowed her to launch into a tirade against Corbyn (to which he could not respond) regarding Labour’s failure to deal with anti-Semitism within its own ranks. It was a real dressing down, and reminiscent of schoolmasters singling out a problem child in front of the entire class.

General Theatrics

Early reports indicate this week’s PMQ’s was either the longest or second-longest in history, clocking in at 45 minutes. The Speaker was forced to stop proceedings once and ask MP’s to reduce the length of their questions, but he did not chide the PM for refusing to answer certain questions in a concise manner. May’s tactic when being pushed on uncomfortable topics seems to be to avoid the question altogether and talk in circles around the issue. It’s a strategy we’ve seen all too often in the American Presidential Debates. Hopefully the Speaker has a word to reduce May’s filibustering.

Final Verdict

I’m splitting the difference and calling this a draw. If Monday Night’s Liverpool vs. Manchester United match (which Sky dubbed before kick-off the “Match of the Century”) can close in a 0–0 draw, so can this. No points for either Corbyn or May to be had. May looked uncomfortable early but came into her own with a few late jabs. Corbyn put May under pressure but never delivered a knockout blow. There will also be questions as to why, after such a tumultuous week for the Tories in their handling of Brexit, he chose the NHS rather than focusing on the Conservatives’ bungling of Britain’s exit from the EU. Either way, spoils shared. Better luck to both next week.