Saturday 22 July 2017

The electioneering begins as UK settles in for seven weeks of Corbyn-bashing

British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn Picture: Reuters
British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn Picture: Reuters

Michael Deacon

The election campaign hasn't officially begun yet. But today in the Commons, Theresa May generously treated us to a preview of it.

Labour's Jeff Smith asked her about government cuts to school budgets. Mrs May replied that Mr Smith didn't even think Jeremy Corbyn was good enough to be Labour leader - and so could hardly tell the public to make him prime minister.

Another Labour MP, Graham Jones, also asked her about government cuts to school budgets. Mrs May replied that Mr Jones didn't even think Mr Corbyn was good enough to be Labour leader - and so could hardly tell the public to make him prime minister.

Meanwhile, Jenny Chapman asked her about cuts to A&E wards. Mrs May replied that Ms Chapman didn't even think Mr Corbyn was good enough to be Labour leader - and so…

Oh, you guessed? Sorry. In which case, I probably won't need to tell you how Mrs May replied when MP Christian Matheson asked her about the national fair funding formula.

Infuriating though Labour MPs might have found this tactic, they could hardly complain. Most of them don't even pretend to support their leader. When Mr Corbyn sat down this afternoon, after a speech proclaiming that Labour offered "a better future", not one of his MPs cheered. In fact, the chamber was so quiet that the Speaker had to ask Mr Corbyn to confirm that he'd finished. Tories guffawed.

At moments like that, it's hard not to feel sorry for Mr Corbyn. If only the public watched live TV coverage of the Commons, he'd at least pick up a few sympathy votes.

The day's main business was the debate on whether to accept Mrs May's demand for an election. The exchanges weren't especially heated, because MPs on all sides already seemed resigned to the result. A bit, I suppose, like the election itself.

Labour's David Winnick said the Tories shouldn't be complacent about winning a landslide, and that "hopefully" they wouldn't "receive such a large majority". Yes, that's the spirit. Keep the score down.

Read More: Early insults fly as MPs clear the way for June polls

Even so, most Labour MPs agreed that the election might as well go ahead. After all, said MP Jim Dowd, it would seem "rather bizarre" if Labour voted not to have an election, because that would be like saying, "We want to keep this Tory government in power." But, interrupted Angus MacNeil of the SNP, how confident was he that there wouldn't still be a Tory government after the election? A Tory government, moreover, that would then remain in power until 2022, rather than 2020?

Mr Dowd reflected on his strategy. "It might not work," he conceded. Valiantly, however, he said he'd vote for it all the same.

After 90 fairly tepid minutes the vote took place. The Speaker confirmed the result: 522 MPs had voted to have the election; only 13 had voted against. There was a curious silence, followed, from the Tory benches, by a sluggish "Yeeeearrrgh".

Maybe they aren't much more excited by this election than the rest of us.

Irish Independent

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