Jeremy Corbyn must have the patience of a saint to put up with the likes of Owen Smith constantly yapping around his ankles.
Today Mr Corbyn launched his campaign for re-election as Labour leader in statesmanlike, Beveridgesque fervour, telling us of the five modern societal ills – and what was Mr Smith doing?
He was biting at the Labour leader’s socks, trying to trip him up by whining about Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday.
The disconnect from reality is unnerving: Mr Smith wants us to believe Mr Corbyn was “taking lectures” from new prime minister Theresa May about “social justice and economic fairness”.
In fact, when Mrs May tried to talk back at the Opposition leader, he had an answer for her – every time.
When she criticised the Labour government of 1997-2010 for its house-building record, he responded: “That Labour Government put a decent homes standard in place in every part of this country.”
Then she responded to a question about racist remarks by new foreign secretary Boris Johnson by harping back to the housing issue and then discussing her own comments about people in minority ethnic groups receiving cold comfort from the criminal justice system.
Mr Corbyn’s response was equally cold, but more just than the system she had mentioned. “My question was actually about the language used by the Foreign Secretary,” he said, flagging up for all to see that the new prime minister had failed to provide an answer to what was only the third question she had faced.
She said: “He uses the language of austerity; I call it living within our means.”
He responded: “Austerity actually means people being poorer, services being cut and local facilities being closed.”
To a pre-rehearsed set-piece in which Mrs May compared him to “unscrupulous” bosses who do not listen to workers, demand some of them double their workload and exploit the rules for their own purposes, he skilfully turned the attack back on the Conservatives. He said:
“We are sent here to represent people. Many people in this country are struggling with low wages and insecure jobs. I know this is very funny for all the Conservative Members, but I do not suppose there are too many Conservative MPs who have to go to a food bank to supplement the food on their family’s table every week.”
Interrupted – I thought by somebody on the benches behind him – while discussing people who are worried about the future of their jobs, he said: “I am talking of the people who sent us here to serve them” – a barbed reminder to the backstabbers on his back benches that Labour is owned by party members, not MPs.
Perhaps this is what infuriated Mr Smith.
Not Mr Corbyn’s performance, which outclassed the novice prime minister at every stage – but the fact that the leader of his party had also been able to reprimand critics in his own party – effortlessly.
Mr Smith is having to work hard – and the strain is already starting to show.
Owen Smith said he was “furious” at Jeremy Corbyn’s performance against Theresa May at prime minister’s questions on Wednesday, claiming the Labour leader’s effort at the dispatch box was not good enough.
In an interview with the Guardian as Smith began his campaign for leadership of the party, he accused Corbyn of letting the new prime minister off too lightly at a time when the Conservatives had made cuts to public services and tax credits but were still trying to lecture Labour over social justice.
“I was more than frustrated: I was furious that we were sitting there with a Tory government that has imposed swingeing cuts on public services, on tax credits, on universal credit, that have smashed women and public sector workers the length and breadth of Britain, and we are taking lectures from them about social justice and economic fairness,” Smith said.
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