Last year, when Theresa May first stormed to victory in a Conservative leadership contest and became Prime Minister, few could have imagined the debate that followed the Queen’s Speech going as it did. The “strong and stable” PM, her catchphrase reduced to a weak cliché, had promised to proceed with “humility”, and apologised for her conduct during the Grenfell Tower fire after entering the Commons chamber to a muted welcome.
The lack of provision for survivors was “a failure of the state, local and national”, she said, adding that as Prime Minister, she “takes responsibility”. Her tone, even when attacking Labour’s policies, was far from combative. She gave way on more than twice as many occasions as the Leader of the Opposition, and was referred to as “the interim Prime Minister” by a Labour MP. Meanwhile, her own MPs asked Jeremy Corbyn questions such as whether he would rule out a second referendum: questions one would usually only expect to be fielded by a man in charge of the country.
It is clear that Mr Corbyn, once treated as a figure of fun by Conservatives and openly mocked at Prime Minister’s Questions – who could forget David Cameron shouting across the bench: “For God’s sake, man, go”? – is suddenly being taken much more seriously. Indeed, the cries to Theresa May to “resign” from Labour MPs today must feel like a painfully ironic reminder of that moment. It does seem an age since she was able to lob insults across the despatch box at the then hapless Mr Corbyn, telling him: “I consider the issue, I set out my plan, and stick to it. It’s called leadership – he should try it sometime.” Well, he did, and look what happened next.
John Prescott, not always an admirer of Mr Corbyn, commented in the immediate aftermath that the Queen’s Speech debate had “turned into Corbyn’s first PMQs”. The snap election, which Labour did after all lose, seems to have worked as some sort of elixir on…