Theresa May cannot think on her feet, but she can deliver a practiced retort with poise. That’s why her two victories over Jeremy Corbyn came in her first outing in the chamber and last week in the teeth of the row over her trip to visit Donald Trump. In both cases, she had a meticulously prepped rebuttal and she delivered it with style.
But when she has to improvise the cracks start to show. That’s why, apart from in the two examples above, Corbyn has the whip hand over May as far as Prime Minister’s Questions are concerned. May’s record against him resembles that of Arsenal at Stamford Bridge – a few dazzling wins amidst a series of dour draws and chastening defeats.
Arsenal went down to a 3-1 defeat at the Bridge last weekend but May didn’t even get on the scoresheet after falling prey to a fantastic ambush from the Labour leader. The leader’s office had got hold of leaked texts between Surrey County Council and the Department for Communities and Local Government about the crisis in social care in the – Conservative-held – county. Corbyn’s suggestion was that Surrey received a special deal, one that the government is loath to reveal the details of. Corbyn had a well-delivered quip of his own prepared to add to the Prime Minister’s misery.
Although the cuts to social care and the growing demographic pressure in that sector will continue to hit the Conservatives hard, Corbyn would do well to remember the real lessons from his victory over May: and continue to improvise and act unpredictably.