PMQs: Never look a gift child refugee in the mouth, unless you're Jeremy Corbyn

There will always be a time for Jeremy Corbyn to return to the neverending debate on the NHS, but with the cabinet collapsing, the abuse inquiry chair squirming and the third runway imploding, this wasn't it

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Indy Politics

It would take an orator of the most gifted craft to shift between subtle innuendo over how ‘Mrs Bone’ marks the occasion of ‘Mr Bone’s’ birthday, and the historic death of 144 people in a colliery collapse. Our new Prime Minister is not an orator of the most gifted craft.

Not that it was her fault. Last week Michael Fabricant graciously eased her in with a lengthy soliloquy on the matter of his own prostate gland. No such niceties this time. 

It’s possible birthday boy Peter Bone should have foreseen, when he was granted the first question, that it would likely fall to him to ask it directly after a tribute from the Prime Minister to the 144 victims of the Aberfan colliery disaster, fifty years ago this week. He should have forseen that it would therefore fall to him to add his own sympathies to hers, and that therefore his question on whether she would kindly reopen his local prison would require a different hook than to begin by shouting: ‘Anyway! It’s my birthday today!’

It’s possible also, that Ms May should have foreseen, when she told him she hoped ‘Mrs Bone will treat the occasion in the appropriate manner,’ that the house would descend into uproarious laughter for what felt like a full minute. Bone, no longer erect by this point but still a glowing red, glanced to the heavens.

From the midst of such hilarity came Corbyn. It was one of those weeks where six questions really doesn’t seem like enough. Is the Chancellor going to quit the cabinet? Will there ever, ever be a third runway? Is the decision over whether parliament can have a vote on leaving the EU seriously going to end up in the hands of the European Court of Justice (beyond satire this one, but a subject for another day)? When did the Prime Minister know that the (most recent) outgoing chair of the child abuse inquiry may or may not allegedly be prone to the odd edgy remark on the subject of race? And all this while Iraqi troops close in on Mosul and one of her backbenchers is touring the TV studios agitating for refugee children to receive the same kind of dental checks that are ordinarily only practised on horses by the travelling Roma community.

With so many gift horses to choose from, it was nothing if not brave of Corbyn to look all of them in the mouth one by one and reject the lot. Instead we had six questions on the NHS. It lasted 12 minutes and 31 seconds. It can be summarised thus: Jeremy Corbyn thinks the Conservatives are cutting the NHS. The Conservatives think they’re spending more on it. This is a debate that has not advanced or altered a nanometre in six decades but it does serve a wider strategic purpose. The moment two politicians start arguing about the NHS on live TV, there is an instant surge in UK calls to Dignitas, even from the young and perfectly healthy. Independent studies have put the savings in billions.

At a Select Committee hearing this week, NHS England chief Simon Stevens warned that if current funding levels are maintained, by 2018 the only anaesthetic offered to patients undergoing the most invasive surgeries will be videos of politicians arguing about the NHS. This new and inexpensive procedure has apparently had some success in trial, but months later several patients are yet to come round.

Labour’s Lisa Nandy, by the way, did manage a question on what the Prime Minister knew by when with regard to New Zealand Judge and former child abuse chair Lowell Goddard’s alleged comments about Asian men and paedophlia. Ms May was shaken, briefly. She didn’t have an answer, at least not until 3pm, when the latest polls came out putting the Conservatives at 47 per cent and Labour at 29. We imagine Mr and Mrs May will be treating the occasion in the appropriate manner.