Czech out the laughs at the May academy
Comedy. It's all in the timing, so they say. Knowing the precise moment to hit them with the punchline. Too fast, and they won't have time to process the information. Leave it too late, and the moment has passed.
Jeremy Corbyn appeared to go for the quickfire routine at PMQs yesterday, wading straight in with a quote from the Government's Brexit negotiator, David Davis.
"The Brexit Secretary assured the country that Brexit will not plunge Britain into a Mad Max style world, borrowed from dystopian fiction," said the Labour leader, briefly pausing for effect.
"Does the Prime Minister feel he could set the bar just a little bit higher?"
Boom, boom! Back of the net! Roars of laughter, even a smile from Theresa May, much to the distaste of po-faced Speaker John Bercow, who looked as though he had just swallowed a sack of lemons.
Ok, not exactly Jim Davidson, but better than you would expect from Mr Corbyn. It's the way he tells 'em.
By contrast, Theresa May went for the slow-burner approach, and boy was it slow. It's not as if she had a shortage of material this week, with the dishevelled Labour leader having finally been moved to deny tabloid claims that he was some sort of East European James Bond. Or maybe Ernst Stavro Blofeld, perhaps stroking a stray moggie he had found on his allotment.
Anyway, her effort had clearly been carefully scripted in advance, and she had evidently been waiting for the right moment to deliver it. Problem was, it was so long-winded and contrived, it would have seemed incongruous at any juncture.
Eventually, after a rambling intervention from Mr Corbyn about Brexit, and the Prime Minister pointing out that the Labour leader had once more forgotten to actually ask a question, Mrs May embarked on an equally wordy address about the importance of co-operation with Europe on matters of intelligence. In a thinly veiled dig at the allegations Mr Corbyn had collaborated with the intelligence services of the old Eastern bloc, she used the word "security" no fewer than four times, and the clearly distracted Tory MP sat behind her was visibly fidgeting with his oh-so-right-on charity wristband. And then came the punchline.
"May I congratulate the honourable gentleman, normally he stands up every week and asks me to sign a blank cheque. I know he likes Czechs, but really..."
Actually, punchline was probably stretching it a bit. After a delay of 15 seconds or so, it dawned on the Tory benches that this was actually a joke, and there was a little belated laughter. Mr Corbyn raised his hand to cover his mouth. Was he stifling a laugh? Or was he feeling a little sleepy after an all-night camomile tea and organic quinoa house party? Perhaps he was talking into a hidden microphone to his contact back in Moscow. Who knows. If Simon Cowell had been sat in the Speakers' chair, he would no doubt have dived for his buzzer now, but Mr Bercow has never really come across as much impresario, any more than Mrs May would in another life make it as a comedian.
In fact, in the parallel universe where Mr Corbyn is an international man of mystery, I could see Mr Speaker and the Prime Minister as trying to turn around a dysfunctional inner-city comprehensive school. Mrs May would be the imperious headmistress, who once a week braves it into the bear-pit assembly hall to establish her authority over all the uncouth adolescents sat around her. Mr Bercow, on the other hand, would be the chippy, bombastic deputy head trying to keep the miscreants under control. Having swapped the traditional Speakers' garb for a plain gown, he even looks like the deputy headmaster of a low-grade comprehensive.
For some unexplained reason, the deputy head – sorry, the Speaker – even opted to pick a fight with Fleet Street's finest, shouting "I couldn't care less about the press gallery" during one of his only partially successful attempts to bring order among the errant pupils. He clearly wasn't in the mood for much mirth.
Yet, while Mr Corbyn might have won the prize for the best gag of the day, one also wonders whether the joke was really on him. While he might have got the laughs, he didn't really land a blow on the Prime Minister. Just a couple of hours before the session, new figures revealed that unemployment had risen for the first time since 2016, but the Labour leader never even mentioned it. Perhaps he should have spent a bit less time playing the class jester, and a bit more into doing his homework.
Special mention should go to Eddie Hughes, the Tory MP for Walsall, for managing to crowbar in a reference to the small Black Country communities of Bloxwich and Willenhall. A quick search of Hansard reveals that this is not the first time young Eddie has managed this since he was elected at the June General Election, making one wonder if it was some sort of dare by his fellow classmates.
But getting back to comedy, one of her replies to a late question from Tory MP Richard Graham perhaps gave us an insight into her idea of entertainment. She assured the MP for Gloucester that the Department For Education would look into his suggestion that the laws governing positions of trust should be extended to prevent relationships between driving instructors and their pupils.
Something tells me that Robin Askwith's Confessions of a Driving Instructor is not the typical viewing in the May household.