Not for the first time, David Cameron’s only compensation is that Jeremy Corbyn is in an even bigger mess than he is….

In a baffling week for our party leaders, Jeremy Corbyn apparently strengthened his position after executing one of the most cack-handed reshuffles in British political history, David Cameron apparently weakened his by advancing to the next stage of his European strategy and Nigel Farage frightened everybody by raising the prospect that someone is trying to kill him. Only Tim Farron had a quiet time of it. Following the extensive flooding in Cumbria, it may well be that he is under water physically as well as politically.

It is a good thing that Maigret is soon to return to our screens in the guise of Rowan Atkinson. We can therefore leave it to him to untangle whether somebody did in fact tamper with the wheels of Mr Farage’s Volvo and enough has been said about the UKIP leader’s loose nuts to avoid the need to repeat such a dreadful calumny here. Douglas Carswell seems like a mild as well as an honourable man and surely even the revelation that his nemesis has a Swedish car to go with his German wife wouldn’t be enough to cause him to set off from Clacton with a wrench. Mr Farage for his part claims to have regretted speaking to a journalist about his mishap on the motorway from which fateful conversation the idea of a failed assassination attempt arose. The UKIP leader is simply accident prone: the memory is still relatively fresh of him being drawn gibbering from the wreckage of a light aircraft after one of his party’s sloganizing banners got caught in the plane’s tail fins. Not even such misfortune though was enough to persuade the people of Buckingham to vote for him. There seems to be no force on earth capable of achieving that.

It is one of the failings of the polling companies that they neglect to ask people which of the party leaders they would most like to do away with. One assumes that Mr Corbyn would score relatively well on this measure since the British public have a profound sense of fair play when it comes to dealing with men with beards, believing them to have suffered enough. They are also instinctively sympathetic towards lefties as compensation towards their consciences for the moment when they know they are not going to vote for them.

Among Labour MPs, however, the desire to bump off a fellow politician is probably higher than at any time since, at the height of the health reforms fiasco, Downing Street let it be known that, were a professional hit man to put forward a proposal in respect of Andrew Lansley, its door would not necessarily be closed. This urge for termination reaches its apogee in the shadow cabinet. Indeed, after Hilary Benn left his meeting with the leader smiling on Monday morning, it would have been a wary aide who went back into the room, wondering whether he would find Mr Corbyn sitting at his desk, or lying in a puddle behind it.

Mr Benn was an early non-casualty of the so-called revenge reshuffle which, rather like the current weather fronts, began to mass ominously at the weekend and had still not really cleared by Friday. It was the Prime Minister’s good fortune that he got to come to Commons twice this week to tease the Labour leader about it. On Tuesday he apologised for interrupting the longest reshuffle in history though by Wednesday, in response to a prompt that this year marks the 400th since the death of Shakespeare, he embarked upon a non-extempore riff involving the names of as many of the Bard’s plays that his assistants could remember. This represented a marginally more high-brow trawl of the Prime Minister’s cultural references: the day before he had pointed out that it would have been possible to watch the entire series of Star Wars films in the time it had taken Mr Corbyn to get round to moving Maria Eagle to the shadow culture portfolio. Mr Cameron is unique among prime ministers in causing us to suppose that this is what he actually was doing while Jeremy Corbyn was exacting his revenge. An earlier class of politician might have said, for example, that, in the time it was taken, he could have listened to the entire Ring Cycle or participated extensively in the Hundred Years War.

Mr Cameron’s appearance on Tuesday was prompted by the need to report back to the House on the European Council summit that he had attended before Christmas. Once the occasion for doing jolly things like eating, launching treaties and riding around in public on bicycles, Council meetings these days are sombre affairs as Europe’s collective leadership gets together to mull over its essential uselessness. It finds Europe assailed by streams of refugees and by fanatics with guns and bombs, and is unable to do much about either. It finds the people fed up with austerity and the economy beset by pessimism, and knows not what to do. It finds Mr Cameron banging on for the umpteenth time about his terms for remaining part of this aggregate ineffectuality and is unable to do much about that either. In the winter at least most of the refugees go away; from the north though, Mr Cameron comes again.

The previous strategy having failed – this was to oblige the British prime minister to confine his lobbying to the slot given over to after-dinner charades (“It’s a letter…four demands….the first demand….”) – time had been found on the Brussels agenda to discuss perfidious Albion’s conditions. The Commons would have liked a bit more detail about what had gone on. The session we learned, had lasted several hours and “almost every” European leader had contributed. Who then had not? Had the Maltese premier sat in sullen silence doodling crosses, or the leader of Poland – reportedly anxious to be obliging to Mr Cameron on the matter of welfare benefits – been sat upon by a coalition of Hungarian and Romanian bottoms? All we were able to discover was that there had been plenty of goodwill and, according to Mr Cameron, a willingness to find an accommodation. This though will have to wait until February, or perhaps March, when Europe’s undertakers must gather again in some Dutch redoubt and do it all over again.

The Prime Minister’s back bench critics were naturally unimpressed. There was evident truth in the observation that these people are never satisfied. They had, after all, heard from Mr Cameron  his significant concession that members of his government, including his Cabinet, will be free to campaign for Britain to leave the EU even if, as expected, the PM himself wants us to stay in. We had been told that the Prime Minister was holding this back so as to hand it over eventually in a manner that made his Eurosceptic opponents feel that they had achieved a great victory. This was to be their Marathon though, in the event, it landed with all the force of a partially masticated wine gum.

Mr Cameron’s problem with respect to his Eurosceptic opponents is that he is Sir Isaac Newton to their John Keats. To them Europe is an exquisite amalgam of duplicity and menace: its very value as an opponent lies in the poetically ubiquitous nature of its threat. The more Mr Cameron tries to pick this apart, and propose particular solutions against particular issues, the more irritated his opponents become, like Keats at Newton’s unweaving of the rainbow. Kenneth Clarke – not only the most venerable but perhaps now the sole surviving Conservative Europhile – picked this up in his question on the statement. Securing an opt-out from the commitment to an ever-closer union was, Mr Clarke observed, until recently the sceptics’ principal demand; now, however, the Prime Minister’s efforts on this front were dismissed as a boring and trivial diversion. Colleagues, the former Chancellor noted, had moved on to display an “unaccustomed interest in benefits”. Later on, another Tory backbencher, Philip Davies, accused the Prime Minister of seeking to fabricate a “bogus negotiating triumph”. Whatever goodwill David Cameron may have detected in Brussels, it clearly has not come back to inhabit the Conservative Parliamentary party.