Leadership is a matter of temperament, and Jeremy Corbyn has occasionally shown himself to be short-tempered and irritable. But today he seemed to have entered a higher level of consciousness, in which he calmly faced a Conservative side of the Commons in full voice.
Tory MPs think they are going to win this election handsomely and cheered Corbyn to his feet, crying “More!” in the belief that he is their greatest election-winning mascot. To his credit, he looked as if he was almost enjoying it. He has been accused of liking the adulation of his own supporters, and he certainly seemed to relish campaigning in his two leadership elections, but of being impatient and prickly when challenged. But today he didn’t let the Tory barracking get to him.
By contrast, it was Theresa May who looked uncomfortable. Corbyn, in what almost seemed a farewell gesture, returned to the tactic of reading out questions from others. She tried to be respectful of these “ordinary working people” in whose name she claims to be fighting this election. But she was only going through the motions and then actually paused before switching to her prepared lines. Some of them were slogans that sounded as if they had been market-tested in the furnaces of Lynton Crosby’s smelting works, such as “strong and stable” versus “coalition of chaos”.
Others were attack lines provided by the Conservative research department, whose staff have to do little more energetic than reading Twitter these days. The Prime Minister quoted a document produced by something called the Socialist Campaign for Labour Victory, which wanted to abolish MI5 and murder the firstborn (or something), and which had been endorsed by John McDonnell, the shadow Chancellor, and Andrew Fisher, Corbyn’s head of policy.
Later, she quoted a website of which Diane Abbott, the shadow Home Secretary, had approved. It consisted of a number of doubts that people have about Corbyn, and suggestions for how his supporters could respond to them. The Prime Minister, of course, just quoted the doubts. “Jeremy Corbyn supports terrorism”; “Jeremy Corbyn advocated the murder of the firstborn” (or something). It was tenuous in the extreme and a bit cheap, but Corbyn didn’t look bothered in the slightest.
He didn’t even seem to care when Angus Robertson, the Westminster leader of the Scottish National Party, returned to form in giving a demonstration of what a leader of the opposition really looks like. Robertson asked two pointed questions about the pensions triple lock, she failed to answer and looked even more uncomfortable. Corbyn, on the other hand, despite being horribly shown up, looked serene.
What we learned from this double-length valedictory session of PMQs, as the Speaker allowed a queue of departing MPs the chance to say goodbye, is that Corbyn is not going to crumple during the election campaign. Unlike Theresa May, he does seem to quite like campaigning, even when people are shouting at him. He will probably still lose his temper with journalists asking awkward questions, because he really doesn’t like them (journalists, and awkward questions). But he will still be standing, and inexplicably cheerful, on the night of 8 June.
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