Theresa May delivered a joke so painfully awful it sent an awkward chuckle across the Tory benches at Prime Minister’s Questions today.
She attempted to spin a Labour MP’s quote back on her own party - after Cat Smith described the Copeland by-election loss as an “incredible achievement”.
Speaking hours after the result, Smith told ITV: “To be 15 to 18 points behind in the polls and to push the Tories to within 2,000 votes is an incredible achievement.”
In a laboured attempt to turn the defence into an attack on Labour, May declared on Wednesday:
“After the result in Copeland, the Honourable Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood [Smith] summed up the by-election result by saying it was an incredible result for the Labour Party.
You know, I think that word actually describes the Right Honourable Gentleman’s [Corbyn’s] leadership ― incredible.”
The jibe was met with stony silence from the Labour benches and quiet jeers from Conservative MPs.
The Prime Minister sought to embarrass Corbyn further over the first loss of an opposition seat to the governing party in a by-election since the 80s by arranging for the new Tory MP to be sworn in straight after PMQs.
Trudy Harrison entered the chamber, gave her oath on the bible and shook Speaker John Bercow’s hand all while the Labour frontbench were forced to sit and watch.
Corbyn failed to use his own party’s new MP’s entrance to the chamber to land a blow on May, with Gareth Snell only receiving a welcome after a Labour backbencher intervened.
Steve Reed said he wanted to “welcome to his place the new Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central”, to which May also added her welcome.
Labour lost Copeland to the Conservatives by 2,147 votes last Thursday.
Party leadership figures have so far blamed a host of factors for the result - ranging from the interventions of party grandees in the days before to the weather.
See the full list here.