Jeremy Corbyn arrived at PMQs with plenty of ammunition to deploy against David Cameron. Unfortunately for the Labour leader, his epic reshuffle (still ongoing) meant it was of little use. Even those who feared their pleas for stability would be ignored believed that Corbyn would avoid a clash with PMQs.
Faced with the Labour leader’s forensic questioning on the floods, Cameron deflected him with barb after barb on his party’s internal strife. “The idea he’s going to be faster on floods when it takes him three days to conduct a reshuffle is frankly laughable. Since I walked into the chamber this morning, his shadow foreign minister resigned, his shadow defence minister resigned – he can’t run anything!” Cameron cried in reference to the departures of Stephen Doughty and Kevan Jones.
It wasn’t elegant – and Cameron’s preoccupation won’t impress voters – but it meant Corbyn could never get out of first gear. So intensely relaxed was the Prime Minister that he allowed himself a Shakespearean flight of fancy. “Here was a moment when we thought this reshuffle could have gone into its Twelfth Night, it was a revenge reshuffle, so As You Like It, it’s turned into something of a Comedy of Errors, perhaps Much Ado about Nothing, there will be those who worry Love’s Labour’s Lost!” The Labour benches, which greeted Corbyn in near-total silence, weren’t amused but the Tories cried “more! more!”
Even the Labour leader’s final question couldn’t knock Cameron off course. To Corbyn’s reasoned call for “a coordinated cross-party approach to flooding”, the PM shot back: “The best I can say is when he’s worked out how to co-ordinate his own party then perhaps he can come and have a word with me”.
Labour MPs will cite today’s session as proof of why the reshuffle should never have happened. Not only did Cameron emerge unscathed from the floods debacle, he gave cabinet ministers a free vote on EU membership at no political cost (remarkably, the issue was entirely ignored by Labour). “Unity is strength” runs the old trade union slogan. With unashamed ruthlessness, Cameron showed Labour just how true the corollary is: disunity is weakness.