After George Osborne yesterday mocked Labour’s recruitment of Yanis Varoufakis and Paul Mason (“Chairman Mao was dead and Mickey Mouse was busy”), it should have been obvious to Jeremy Corbyn that David Cameron would have his own fun today. But when the moment inevitably came (“He is the Greek finance minister who left the economy in ruins … It’s Acropolis Now”), the Labour leader had no riposte or witty retort. “That is not much help to the 41,000 children who are benefiting from what they promised by the government” he flatly replied. “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts,” tweeted Labour MP and Corbyn critic Tom Blenkinsop. After that moment, Cameron was in control.
Corbyn had begun well, asking a series of detailed questions on the government’s delayed childcare promises. But Cameron never looked truly troubled, deploying his own barrage of statistics and emphasising that all policies depended on a “strong economy” (something that voters do not trust Corbyn to deliver).
The Labour leader later moved on to school overcrowding and agency teachers, warning rather clunkily of the rise of “Agency Britain”. Cameron replied that “a record 96.6 per cent of teachers now have a degree or higher qualification”.
None of the backbench questions unsettled the PM. After Bernard Jenkin was called but failed to show, his fellow eurosceptic David Davis stood in. “I’m glad we’ve got the single transferable question, if not the single transferable vote,” Cameron drolly replied. Davis’s question – on the number of National Insurance numbers issued to EU citizens – was too technical to have impact in the chamber. Inside the Commons at least, the anti-EU Tories are still playing nice. Labour’s Barry Sheerman urged Cameron to emulate Harold Wilson, the centenary of whose birth is next week, by standing up to the rebels. But it is Wilson, of course, who Cameron has already drawn inspiration from – by conceding a referendum and by suspending collective responsibility. That was a reminder that the real battle presently lies within the main parties, rather than between them.