Political column March 8

By Toby Neal | Politics | Published:

There came a point during Prime Minister's Questions when Jeremy Corbyn heard something that no Opposition leader likes to hear.

No, not a clever heckle from the Tory benches. Nor indeed an imperious and patronising put-down from the Prime Minister. Those are all part of the House of Commons game.

It was something akin to silence. Not silence exactly, but a sound you might associate with feet being shuffled in an awkward moment. Music to his ears would be cheers from the Labour benches. And this was not that.

It came through adhering rigidly to his script and agenda, resulting in an abrupt, jarring change of direction.

He had ticked off all his scripted questions about the visit to Britain of the international war criminal, torturer, and abuser of human rights - I am extrapolating the underlying thrust of his questioning - the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

He asked Theresa May to call on him to stop the Saudi air attacks.

"A ceasefire has got to be urgent in order to save lives in the Yemen. (Slight pause). Why does the Prime Minister think that rough sleeping fell under Labour but doubled under the Conservatives?"

It was a not-so-deft moving on of his agenda.

Two items then. The Crown Prince's visit, and rough sleeping.


Instead of spending all his time berating the Crown Prince, was there not a lost opportunity here to adopt the mantle of statesmanship and ask something along the lines of: "Will the Prime Minister join with me in condemning Vladimir Putin and the Russian state for their murderous activities on the streets of Britain?"

There may be good reasons why the subject was not raised by him, nor indeed by other MPs. Of course, investigations are continuing and there is a lot of speculation in the air and a shortage of facts at the moment.

But you would still have thought it would have got some sort of airing, beyond tributes to the work of the emergency services in Salisbury. Rather curious, I thought.

Nor was it a Brexit week. This was another subject not raised by Mr Corbyn, although this one did come up from the backbenches.


Theresa May got in a barb early in proceedings.

"First of all can I thank the Right Honourable Gentleman for telling me it's International Women's Day tomorrow. I think that's what's called mansplaining."

No, he was just mentioning it, and he is a man, but it was a cheap and easy way for her to get some cheers and laughter.

Then we got on to the business of his main chosen topic for the day.

"As she makes her arms sales pitch, will she call on the Crown Prince to halt the shocking abuse of human rights in Saudi Arabia?"

She said she looked forward to welcoming the crown prince.

What? Looking forward to meeting this rogue? Labour backbenchers kicked up a fuss.

Mrs May: "Labour backbenchers from sedentary positions are shouting 'shame'. The link we have with Saudi Arabia is historic, it is an important one, and it has saved the lives of potentially hundreds of people in this country."

Inconveniently for Labour, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry had earlier in the day been giving interviews on her own thoughts on the Saudi visit.

The Prime Minister gleefully seized on her quotes, or at least those with which she agreed.

The exchanges on rough sleeping were predictable. The heartless Government was not doing enough (Corbyn). The Government is putting in millions of pounds towards dealing with rough sleeping, and the causes of rough sleeping, and aims to eliminate it altogether by 2027 (May).

Mrs May always has her specially prepared "last word" which came through quoting Mr Corbyn back to himself in describing the record of the last Labour government on housing as "in crisis and bringing misery and despair."

Glyn Davies, Montgomeryshire, asked her to agree that the best interests of the people of his constituency and across Wales were best served by the four nations of the United Kingdom working together positively and constructively to make Brexit a success.

Unsurprisingly, the Prime Minister did agree with that.

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.


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