The season ends with a no-score draw in Brussels…. 

The political term broke up in a manner reminiscent of the way in which most of it had been conducted – ie amid acrimony and bad feeling. Since most of the big issues have either been disposed of – we resolved to bomb ISIL in Syria and scrap tax credits – or can be parked for the new year, the parties decided to fall out about the main issue of the moment, which is, of course, Christmas. At PMQs, Mr Cameron made a point of wishing everybody ‘Happy Christmas’ in a way as to suggest that Jeremy Corbyn was one of those weasel-worded wassailers who resort to secular circumlocutions such as ‘seasons greetings’ or, God-forbid, ‘winterval’. I did actually say ‘Christmas’ Mr Corbyn shot back sniffily, and the record shows that he was nothing if not correct about that.

The PM’s little dig might have been a reference to the Labour leader’s Christmas card, which was notoriously free of wise men or virgins in favour of a bike stuck next to a phone box in the snow. There was plenty of interpretation available as to what this meant, to go with the obvious ribaldry. For this sketch, however, the bike in British political iconography is symbolic of either Norman Tebbit or Boris Johnson. Neither of these figures is presumably what Mr Corbyn intended to invoke. It might have been the single traffic light in the background, stuck on red, that was supposed to capture our attention, representing a vision of what life in a Corbyn-led Britain would be like.

The party leaders are, of course, all far too aware of modern sensibilities to include actual references to Christmas in their greetings cards, though Mr Cameron came closest. In his card, he poses on the doorstep at Number Ten next to Mrs Cameron in a dress that, in colour at least, if not in pattern, strongly suggested the Virgin Mary. (To be clear, it was Mrs Cameron who was wearing the dress.) The UKIP leader Nigel Farage meanwhile announced sternly that Christmas is a Christian festival – causing Douglas Carswell immediately to re-examine his views on this matter – though his own card was some tediously jokey reference to the battle over Brexit. Not that one would want to think that Mr Farage is obsessed or anything. His bête noire – one likes to dabble daringly with the politically incorrect when discussing UKIP – Mr Carswell, said that it was time for his party leader to resign. This is all very well, but Mr Farage has tried resigning once before, and so disliked the experience that his time in the political wilderness lasted under how long you would imagine he’d be able to stay off the beer and fags. These are straitened times for the media, and you can hardly expect them to send along reporters and cameras to witness an event, the staying power of which might be rather less than the life expectancy of a badger on the M25.

Mr Carswell had also caused some minor annoyance to the Prime Minister at question time by asking him whether he was still pursuing the repatriation of social and employment law as part of his negotiations with the European Union. Like a good lawyer, Mr Carswell only asks questions to which he already knows the answer and the answer, of course, is that the Prime Minister is doing no such thing. Not that it matters: Euroscepticism is a discipline that revels in the mastery of obscure and mind-numbing detail that ordinary people care about as much as they do the number of craters on the moon. Eurosceptics must therefore continually prod themselves to remember to talk about things that people do care about, such as immigration. It is because Mr Farage is quite good at doing this that he manages to hang on at the head of the poisonous snake-pit that is the United Kingdom Independence Party.

Having disposed of both Mr Carswell and, earlier, Mr Corbyn, who initiated another one of those pointless exchanges of bombast about the NHS, the Prime Minister went to Brussels to discuss Britain’s demands for our continued participation in the European club. On this topic, Mr Cameron is widely regarded as the club bore, but since he also pays one of the largest subscriptions it is felt occasionally necessary to hear him out. According to press reports, the PM rescued his position on benefits for migrants with an impassioned 40 minute speech over dinner. This was a high risk strategy indeed for nothing should be generally allowed to get between a European leader and his dinner. In the end they agreed to a replay in February and presumably the matter will eventually have to be settled on penalties. This does not bode well for the Remain camp: Britain’s record in penalty competitions against the Germans is not a distinguished one.

Advertisements