The Wimbledon fortnight is fast approaching, that all-too-ephemeral time of year that reminds us that nothing beats the excitement of a fast game of tennis.
The cheers, the moans, the ‘thwup, thwup’ of the ball fizzing back and forth over the lush lime green grass.
Conversely, there are few experiences more harrowing than a competition moving at a snail’s pace. A few years ago, I witnessed a match on center court between two fellow non-entities so lifeless that all they had to do was get to the bar.
Unfortunately, yesterday’s PMQs fell into the latter camp. If the legendary Dan Maskell was commenting, he might have been tempted to observe that Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir displayed as much energy and prowess on the pitch as two gin-soaked old dowagers struggling with a pair of beaten wooden Slazengers. Oh, I say!
It would have taken more than a jug of turbocharged Pimms down the gullet to make this contest worthwhile.
Labor Party leader Keir Starmer speaks in the House of Commons in London on June 28, 2023
HENRY DEEDES: There are few experiences more grueling than a contest that moves at a snail’s pace. A few years ago, I witnessed a match on center court between two fellow non-entities so lifeless that all they had to do was get to the bar. Unfortunately, yesterday’s PMQs fell into the latter camp (File Photo)
Starmer opened the service with an attack on government construction targets. He scoffed at Rishi’s promise to have 300,000 houses built by the end of the year. No chance.
A topspin return was in order. Or at least a joke. Instead, Rishi’s response was to dig up some clunky numbers off the net: 2.2 million houses built, housing supply up 10%. Not really a crowd pleaser.
He looked so stiff and arthritic that he came across as someone whose joints needed a Deep Heat massage from the physio. Where was the energy? Where was the fight?
Not that Sir Keir was exactly sending crossed zingers on the shipping box. He pulled out a prepared gag, taking up the famous quote from the late Labor Prime Minister Jim Callaghan – ‘It’s ‘The housing crisis, what housing crisis? with this prime minister.
The joke barely registered with his backbenchers. Half of them probably have no idea who Jim Callaghan was.
Otherwise, Starmer stuck to his tried-and-tested groundstrokes: “Conservative economic chaos,” “Failing Conservative government,” and so on. He proudly declared that Labor was now the party of ownership. Rishi didn’t hesitate moaning. ” He quitted ! cried Sir Keir triumphantly. For once, it was hard to disagree.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks in the House of Commons in London on June 28, 2023
HENRY DEEDES: Sir Chris Bryant (Laboratory, Rhondda) continued the rally, angrily accusing Rishi of ‘lecturing’ his constituents with these ‘hold your cool’ remarks. Bryant wondered if Sunak might be “literally the worst person to lead the country through a cost of living crisis.” Not literally surely. Doesn’t Sir Chris know about the Plaid Cymru crackpots?
Fortunately, livelier action was on the outside courts. We can always count on Stephen Flynn of the SNP to assert some of his usual Caledonian belligerence.
He hadn’t given his bald head its usual swipe with the razor blade, which meant he had a slight running mohawk down the middle. Creepy. Andy Murray should give it a shot next week.
Mr Flynn was furious with the Prime Minister’s recent advice to homeowners to ‘keep their cool’ in the face of rising interest rates. “A little nerve! ” He shouted.
What drove him even crazier was the fact that Rishi was a “quasi-billionaire” who had probably never “struggled to pay a bill”. Phew. This “near” will have stung.
Incidentally, Flynn’s multi-millionaire predecessor, Ian Blackford, barely has to count the droolers.
Sir Chris Bryant (Lab, Rhondda) continued the rally, angrily accusing Rishi of “lecturing” his constituents with those “hold your cool” remarks.
Bryant wondered if Sunak might be “literally the worst person to lead the country through a cost of living crisis.” Not literally surely. Doesn’t Sir Chris know about the Plaid Cymru crackpots?
The most angry intervention of all came from Shaun Bailey (Con, West Bromwich W) who threw a real McEnroe over reports that the GMB union had blocked paramedics from leaving a depot during industrial strikes in Sandwell.
Bailey furiously urged Labor MPs to “build a backbone and put people before your payers!” – Cheers from the Conservatives.
In the public gallery next to me were a row of hardened-looking steelworkers touring the Commons. GMB members too, in my opinion. Sinister faces. Heavily tattooed arms crossed.
One of them shook his head angrily. Bailey would have been wise to give them a wide gap in the central hall of the Commons.