Today's PMQs proved that Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are the worst debating duo to have entered the House of Commons

Theresa May responds to Corbyn’s increasingly loud questioning with minimum content. Emily Thornberry and David Lidington’s performance the previous week in the absence of the leaders showed how PMQs should be done 

Anna Rhodes
Wednesday 14 December 2016 15:02
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Theresa May makes sweary 'FFS' joke about Boris Johnson

PMQs has become somewhat of a farce in recent months (many will, of course, argue that it has been a farce for a much longer period of time). Theresa May dazzled at her first session – it was, in fact, the first PMQs I had ever witnessed from the Chamber – where her background work, style and domination of Corbyn was truly impressive. It seemed, back then, as though Corbyn and May were going to be an interesting duo to watch, with both happy to hold each other to account on the important issues.

Now, a good four or so months later, I look on to PMQs with boredom and dread. Theresa May responds to Corbyn’s increasingly loud questioning with minimum content, maximum scripted wit. Given, it is enjoyable to see the chamber having a good laugh (the “FFS Boris” joke was rather a good moment for all of us who love a popular online acronym this afternoon) – but the debate always seems to go nowhere. One feels as though the witty banter and sharp jibes exchanged would be better placed on Have I Got News For You than the debating chamber.

Emily Thornberry and David Lidington’s performance the previous week in the absence of the leaders showed how PMQs should be done – yes, jibe at each other and make some jokey asides, but answer the questions at least.

Take the social care discussion today. Jeremy Corbyn raised a crucial point on the lack of social care provision in this country, with approximately 1.2 million people going without the necessary care. However, the Q&A descended into a back-and-forth tennis game of “It’s central government’s fault” and “No, it’s the local authorities’ fault” – with May ending the shouting match with a rather drawn-out list of Labour’s failings over a 13-year period. What is the use in bringing up Tony Blair’s decisions in 2003 when action is needed now?

Angus Robertson questions Theresa May over arms sales to Saudi Arabia at PMQs

It’s clear that Corbyn and May do not gel well as opponents. It is all theatre, and theatre of the most absurdist, plot-free kind – primarily because both of them are unsure of their own party line. Jeremy Corbyn has improved demonstrably in the past couple of months – this is partly due to a change in style, and because his opponent is becoming increasingly weaker as her tenure deepens and her party divides. However, the equally deep rifts within Labour and Corbyn’s unfortunate tendency to make embarrassing gaffes can sometimes make for painful watching.

The Government is only balanced and held to account when the Opposition is effective and strong – but when the Opposition and the Government are both distracted and divided, where does that leave us? It’s clear I’m not the only one who’s tired of this charade: the press gallery at PMQs this week was half-empty according to tweeting attendees, with many too apathetic to even turn up and watch.

Looking back to Cameron v Corbyn, it was a better time. The two debated well as Cameron had a strong sense of direction (even if that direction didn’t always lead him where he wanted to go.) May, on the other hand, is searching in the dark for a pathway on, well, just about everything. Her plan – and even her views – on many issues remain unclear. She wishes to help the JAMs, yet is increasing council tax by 6 per cent to fund social care and God knows what she intends to do about Brexit, unless someone accidentally drops a Pukka Pad outside Downing Street with a tangible “Master Plan” written in blue biro.

From PMQs, we now learn next to nothing. We hear a good few jokes and jibes, but the intelligent debate on the important issues facing the country and the world is unfortunately missing (until Angus Robertson makes an appearance). One can only hope that Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May take the Christmas period to reflect upon their roles, and make it their New Year’s Resolutions to add some content, so those sitting at home have some idea about how our democracy actually intends to function.

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