Huge cheers signalled the start of David Cameron’s final Prime Minister’s Questions. You’d have thought a conquering Emperor had just arrived in Rome with thousands of prisoners and stolen gold. It was a strange welcome for a man who, whatever his other achievements, has accidentally taken the UK out of the EU and may therefore albeit unexpectedly split the Kingdom that he has in the past taken such pains to keep together.
The MPs though were intent on a noisy send off. You would have thought that Cameron was everyone’s favourite person in the entire world, ever. The compliments came fast, from both sides of the house. The jokes flowed from the start, Cameron noting to laughs that his diary looked very light after his upcoming meeting with the queen. Jeremy Corbyn stood up to jeers. Cameron complimented him on his tenacity, comparing him to the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Whoever spotted that similarity is to be congratulated and it got one of the biggest laughs of the afternoon. There were many others, Cameron demonstrating his easy, witty manner which has served him well for 5500 questions at the despatch box. The whole parliament looked like it was the last day at school and no one was going to do any work. It was a fun place to be. Which is all very well, but the country is in the biggest pickle it’s been in for decades and the tone should have been less flippant.
Nevertheless PMQs provided some quotable quotes. Jeremy Corbyn, suffering his own issues with democracy in his party gave us Democracy is an exciting and splendid thing. Cameron told us that Nothing is really impossible if you put your mind to it. More on point, and something that needs serious debate, Ken Clarke reminded us that No two people know what Brexit means.
At the end Cameron received a standing ovation. Again you wouldn’t think he had just engineered a disengagement with a continent potentially as grave as George III’s business with the American Colonies. Rather the House reacted as though he had captained England to victory over Australia or had invented something amazing like self-buttering toast.
A quick handshake with the speaker and the PM was gone. Applause from both sides of the house continued at length, though there were some abstainers on the Labour benches. The general atmosphere suggested they were saying goodbye to the world’s greatest man. Parliament looked unnecessarily self-congratulatory. Cameron may have many good achievements, being PM for six years must be draining and difficult, but he is leaving the country in disarray. That should have stemmed some of the raucous adulation.