Following this morning’s European Union state of the union address, Brexit was once again high on the agenda at today’s PMQs.
Both Prime Minister Theresa May, 60, and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, 68, clashed over employment figures and poverty levels alongside the public sector pay cap.
But during their face what did Mrs May’s body language really show regarding her relationship with leader of the opposition?
Author and body language expert Judi James decoded their actions and noted Jeremy’s change in character.
She said: “Jeremy Corbyn finally seems to have got into his PMQs stride, using a technique that runs speedily along a sliding scale from ‘calm but disappointed headmaster’ to ‘barking attack dog’, performing the kind of frustrated anger that gained him an army of followers during the last election.
“One upon a time before the her disastrous election and then the Brexit lobby Theresa May used to deal with Corbyn with a dismissive display of humour and contempt, but it’s obvious from her body language signals at today’s PMQ that she’s no longing finding Jeremy funny.
“Flanked by a new wing-woman in the shape of a noisy and dramatic Dawn Butler who made such a racket she was told to calm down by the Speaker, Jeremy seemed to be May’s own personal Voldemort at the start of the session.
“Follow her eye-scan of the opposition benches as she kicked off jerkily and the way her gaze skipped across Corbyn suggested she might have been too scared or too disgusted to look directly in his direction.
“His own displays of anger brought out some of the old May though. Like a sleeping snake poked with a stick she rose up and came back hissing and ready to strike.”
At the start of the session May looked tentative and faintly intimidated. Her ‘praying’ hand gesture across the dispatch box suggested pleading rather than attack. After ignoring Corby with her eye scan of the House in a way that suggested fear rather than a desire to humiliate him her gesticulation when she spoke hinted that she was not on top form.
When her hand was held out for emphasis her thumb remained crooked and tucked into the palm and when she clenched her hands together you could see the thumbs rubbing away in a gesture of anxiety. Confidence and a stomach for the fight will normally show as an erect thumb gesture, signalling strength and enjoyment. The ‘praying’ hands did suggest precise thinking but a lack of courage for the battle ahead.
As Jeremy went in for the attack though May’s body language began to suggest genuine and growing anger rather than buoyant points-scoring. His attack seemed to fuel her performance and here we can see the thumb has started to unfurl. May’s technique seemed to be to allow Corbyn to let rip and then surf his emotion by raising her own levels of status and genuine-looking fury.
Jeremy began his questions leaning heavily on one elbow on the dispatch box while May sat staring balefully from her bench. With his glasses on the end of the nose and his vocal tone switched to ‘calm authority’ this is the version of Jeremy that out-gunned the PM on her claims to be the ‘Strong and stable’ party during the election.
May might have used some not-so-subtle sneering techniques on Corbyn in the past but this facial expression said it all in PMQs. Once she did finally manage to look her opponent straight in the face her own expression showed moments of what looked very much like quite naked anger. This baleful stare is relatively out of character for the PM but gives us a glimpse of the strength of her current real feelings about the leader of the opposition.
After a shaky and anxious-looking start May picked up swiftly to reveal her classic ‘Critical Parent’ gesticulation as she went on full-force attack. Seething with what looked like genuine anger May slammed shut her notes folder and clipped her pen back into its lid in what looked like a ritual to show the gloves were finally off. The pointed index finger began to stab upwards at the ceiling to register dominant power and control and in between being used as a pointer May waved it as a baton to emphasis her words. The ‘rigid digit’ gesture is one she shares with Trump and it implies a powerful, quasi-parental message that ‘I am right and you will do what I say’. Wagged in Corbyn’s direction it looked like a direct command to tow the line.