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  1. Politics
18 July 2018updated 29 Jul 2018 12:17pm

Theresa May somehow wins as Jeremy Corbyn plays to his weaknesses at PMQs

A mystifyingly poor strategy allowed the Prime Minister to emerge the victor.

By Stephen Bush

Increasingly, Prime Minister’s Questions has only one thing going for it: eventually, it ends. Neither Theresa May nor Jeremy Corbyn are well-suited to it and if one were listing great parliamentary duels, their encounters would struggle to make the top 100, let alone the top ten.

Nonetheless, this was a remarkable display, and not in a good way. May has had a terrible week by any stretch: bits of her government keep falling off, her Brexit strategy is in pieces, and it is near-impossible to work out how she will avoid crashing out without a deal. Yet she somehow emerged the winner from an encounter that frankly should embarrass everyone connected with preparing the Labour leader for it.

Corbyn, unlike May, does have several strengths as a parliamentary performer. He does sorrow and outrage well, which is part of why he clips so neatly for Facebook, where Labour’s messaging is so daunting.  He is bad at follow-up questions and thinking on his feet.

Exposing and exploiting the holes in May’s Chequers strategy is so far from Corbyn’s strengths it would need a passport to visit it, yet, mystifyingly, that’s the approach Team Corbyn went for, perhaps because they were stung by criticism for not bringing up Esther McVey’s conduct last time out. Even the most partisan Conservative would admit that May is not nimble on her feet but with Corbyn lost in  the blind alley of Brexit nitty-gritty she didn’t have to be to do better out of the exchanges. A more forensic and detail-focused Labour politician – like his predecessor Ed Miliband or his stand-in Emily Thornberry – would have done well. But this tactic has never worked for Corbyn and questions should be asked in Norman Shaw North as to why they dug it out again. Surely the World Cup, an issue on which Labour has cleverly wheeled out a number of populist gimmicks, would have been a more effective topic.

This stinker of a performance should be a useful reminder to the Labour leader’s office of a few things: firstly, there is no value to playing the game of quick back-and-forth when it plays so badly to their centre-forward’s strengths. Secondly, a few tweets from pundits about why Corbyn ought to have gone on that week’s big story are a price worth paying for a decent clip of their candidate talking about something else. Thirdly, the best way to tackle Brexit is at urgent statements, when Corbyn can do an outraged speech to which May cannot effectively reply, and to play to his strengths at PMQs.

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