Simon Carr: Is Party support draining from a deflated PM?

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The Sketch

It’s not so much a premiership as a medical condition. The poor fellow is sick. Look at him, he’s ill. It’s a self-inflicted illness but nonetheless deserving of sympathy. He was prepared to take the risk, he fought to take it, now he suffers the consequence of a wasting illness that saps his strength, his energy, his pleasure in life. He’s a brave heart, he’s a fighter, but the power of positive thinking is just prolonging the agony.

Towards the end of his appearance yesterday he sat expressionlessly facing the despatch box as a friendly question came from behind. His mouth opened slightly, his chest rose and several heartbeats later it fell. His mouth closed. It had been a great sigh, a long, heartfelt sigh that asked the most important question of Prime Minister’s Questions: “Why don’t people understand what I’ve done for them?”

His young, dancing opponent said things that must have hurt. They were hurtful because they were true. The post strike. Why had the PM abandoned plans for privatising the post office? It had been a much-trumpeted commitment to save the thing. Failing to bring the Bill to the House was “an appalling display of weakness”.

Gordon’s response did indeed sound convalescent. There was some painkiller-babble about the 2007 modernisation plan implementing the mediation and negotiation that might lead to an arbitrated implementation.

And there was the claim that the Bill hadn’t been brought to the House because there was no commercial buyer for the service. This was “nonsense”. The PM hadn’t stopped the Bill because he couldn’t sell the post office to the private sector. No, Cameron said. It was because he couldn’t sell it to his backbenchers. Oo, that went home. If the PM isn’t depressed he is certainly the cause of depression in others. The mood among his party slumped. The Tory leader had said something everyone agreed with.

And it was all because of Peter Mandelson. It’s his Bill that wants to sell off this icon of public ownership. Labour has not learned to love Peter Mandelson. The party tolerates Mandelson for his one role in the PM’s illness – he is the only life support system the poor fellow has. He is the saline drip keeping his patient hydrated.

After today he must be wondering whether to keep dripping.

Cameron went on to link the withdrawal of the Bill to increased union activism. Brown laughed this off as a Tory delusion, but Cameron had quoted the words from a government business minister whose proposition this was.

The more Cameron used the word “weak” of the PM the more everyone in the House remembered Blair’s taunting of John Major.

On the optimistic side, the illness doesn’t last forever. And in fact it turned out very well for John Major, didn’t it? In the end?