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An ominous calm reigned at PMQs. The House was subdued, and by no means full. Members of the Cabinet looked depressed and almost suspiciously inert.
What was going through the nimble mind of Michael Gove, or the scarcely less nimble mind of Sajid Javid, sitting beside him on the Treasury bench? They no longer bother to react to the tame barbs of Jeremy Corbyn, or to the platitudinous replies of their own leader.
It would not be entirely surprising if Gove and Javid were wondering how much more of this they can take. In their own performances, they generally acknowledge some obligation to amuse their listeners by livening things up a bit.
The Prime Minister does not. She prodded away at the ball like Sir Geoffrey Boycott on a quiet afternoon at Headingley. Theresa May scored no runs, but her defensive technique is sound against the medium pace bowling of the Leader of the Opposition, and she tried to indicate by her demeanour that she expects to be at the crease for a long time to come, so is in no hurry to build a big score.
Susan Elan Jones (Lab, Clwyd South) suggested, with refreshing rudeness, that May “doesn’t know whether she’s going to be Prime Minister” next Monday, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer will deliver his Budget.
May offered no stroke, and continued to decline to say anything about the Budget.
She assured Jacob Rees-Mogg that reports of a continued role in this country for the European Court of Justice after Brexit are wrong.
But she did not convey, as a leader might be expected to do, any sense of direction to her own troops. She, Corbyn and Sir Bernard Jenkin paid tribute to Sir Jeremy Heywood, who this morning announced his retirement as Cabinet Secretary because of ill-health.
That added to the mournful and valedictory tone of these proceedings. It would not have seemed out of place if the Prime Minister had glanced at her silent colleagues on the Treasury bench, and offered them a verse from the well-known hymn:
Abide with me! fast falls the eventide,
The darkness deepens: Lord, with me abide!
When other helpers fail, and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O, abide with me!