Jeremy Corbyn arrived at today’s PMQs hoping to score the open goals he missed on Monday. Unfortunately for him, the match had ended. The government has ruled out further welfare cuts and the Budget has passed. Corbyn’s references to Iain Duncan Smith (who he failed to mention in the Commons on Monday) couldn’t help but feel like ancient history – a day is now a long time in politics.
All of this meant Cameron was able to weather the biggest cabinet split of his premiership. He also had a trump card to play: a Labour list ranking MPs by favorability to Corbyn (apparently left in a Commons bar). “We’ve got the spreadsheet of which Labour MP is on which side,” Cameron gleefully declared in reference to the Times’s story. “The Honourable Lady is shouting, she’s ‘neutral but not hostile’ … the Chief Whip is being a bit quite. There are five categories, we’ve got ‘core support’, I think you can include me in that lot, we’ve got ‘core plus’ … The Chief Whip’s being a bit quiet because she’s in ‘hostile’. Mr Speaker, I thought I had problems!”
Labour MPs responded by pointing at the recalcitrant Tories opposite, nearly half of whom oppose EU membership. This was the moment for Corbyn to quip that he would draw up a list of factions hostile to Cameron – but it would take too long. The Labour leader, however, rarely one for humour, could only plead with the PM to end “the theatre”. In a hastily deleted tweet, John Woodcock MP (one of the “hostile” group), delivered his verdict: “Fucking disaster. Worse week for Cameron since he came in and that stupid fucking list makes us into a laughing stock.” Another Labour MP texted: “Corbyn refuses to support the Chief Whip. Noted.”
Even when Corbyn picked the right attack – asking how the government would fill the £4.4bn hole in its Budget – he was effortlessly dismissed. “Suddenly, the king of fiscal rectitude speaks,” Cameron scoffed, exploiting Labour’s profligate reputation.
Rarely has a Prime Minister enjoyed a comeback this swift. For the opposition, today’s PMQs was more grim proof that Tory failure is not the same as Labour success.