I’ve been wondering how I would describe the sound MPs make during prime minister’s questions to an alien. It’s not a natural human noise – too joyless for a laugh and yet too lacklustre for a jeer. If a Foley artist had to recreate it for a film’s soundtrack, they’d fill an old accordion with gin and throw it down a flight of stairs – it’s the only way to get that thudding braying noise, wheezing out malicious approval like a drunk uncle watching Benny Hill reruns.
And yet the sound is also magic. When all MPs of a party make it together, like an oral conga line of partisan snarls, it can turn incomprehensible nonsense into a jolly good idea, a fine example of British wit. This has never been truer than on Monday, as it spun gold from one of the stupidest sentences ever uttered in parliament, when Iain Duncan Smith told the prime minister to “remind [the EU] that cakes exist to be eaten, and cherries exist to be picked”.
As statements go, it’s not the most wrong thing that’s ever been said – cakes do exist to be eaten, and to an extent cherries exist to be picked (if he believes that the only function of nature is to serve humans, which, as a Thatcherite Tory, he probably does). But really it’s a play on the EU’s two criticisms of the British approach to Brexit: that we are trying to have our cake and eat it, and that we are trying to cherrypick the benefits of the EU without the responsibilities.
Instead of answering those criticisms, Duncan Smith has decided to purposefully misunderstand a set of very easy-to-grasp premises – and then pretended that this was somehow quintessentially British banter. It’s like a restaurant serving you a raw chicken because they claim not to know how an oven works, and then expecting a five star review on Zomato because the waiter said “methinks” when he served you the bill.
To be fair to the EU, the cake metaphor is a little confusing for some. They probably should have put it in terms IDS could understand, like: “You can’t…