David Cameron couldn’t make PMQs today having had a busy week buying a new motor for his missus. The vehicle in question was a clapped out 2004 Nissan Micra with 90,000 miles on the clock – in Tory blue of course – for which he shelled out the princely sum of £1,500 (two seconds on AutoTrader would have revealed similar mileage models regularly go for half that price).
Unfortunately for Dave his millionaire spouse was not impressed with her millionaire husband buying her a beat up old Nissan to potter around Chipping Norton in. In a rage she summarily banished him to the dog house, and so the PM fled to Japan to put as much distance between him and the old dear as possible under the pretence of attending vital G7 meetings. To be honest I can’t understand what she’s so upset about, sure the Nissan’s interior is nothing special, but it’s certainly not the most useless and overvalued old banger SamCam’s had to sit on.
And so onto proceedings. In the PM’s absence we had George Osborne and Angela Eagle fighting it out on the undercard. Maria Caulfield kicked things off by asking the Chancellor to agree that “the first priority of any Government has to be the defense and security of our country” and to “outline the steps this Government is taking to replace our Trident nuclear defence”. The Chancellor obliged her by grandstanding that “for almost 70 years” an independent nuclear deterrent was the cornerstone of our “freedom” and “national security”. Clearly Osborne suffered a slip of the tongue here, as we all know from Remainer/BBC news and the PM kindly keeps reminding us, it is the EU that secured peace in Europe. An odd mistake though, after all, how could he confuse the EU with costly weapons intended to prevent opposition by intimidating entire peoples into surrender?
Now it was the turn of Angela Eagle to quiz the Chancellor. She began by pressing him on the French authorities’ dawn raid on Google, asking him if he regretted “calling his cosy little tax deal with the same company good news for the British taxpayer?” Osborne dodged this, pointing out that the Tory Government “are collecting money and tax from companies that paid no tax when the Labour Party were in office”, and finishing by innocently enquiring if as Exchequer Secretary “she ever raised with the inland revenue at the time the tax affairs of Google?”. Realising herself to be on shaky ground, Eagle conceded that “obviously the Chancellor has done a bit more research this time”, and went on to attack Google with some solid quotes and statistics one of her researchers had Googled half an hour earlier.
At this point I began to feel deeply unsettled and attempted to adjust the television set, noticing there appeared to be a carbon copy of Angela Eagle – minus the peroxide hair – sitting to her left and nodding along agreeably with everything she was saying. Thankfully I needn’t have worried, the television was not broken and I wasn’t suffering from double vision – the doppelganger beside Eagle was none other than her brunette twin sister Maria. Concern aside, I couldn’t shake the feeling throughout the rest of the Shadow First Secretary’s questions that I was witnessing a bizarre advert for a hair bleaching salon, with the before and after versions illustrated simultaneously.
My distraction mattered little in the end, Eagle’s performance wasn’t up too much, and nor was her delivery which can best be described as coming from the “droning Geography teacher” school of political rhetoric. In fact one wonders why a woman who resembles nothing so much as a cabbage patch doll minus the charisma is so vaunted as a potential future leader of the Labour Party.
If Eagle was bad, Osborne was little better. The Chancellor of course did his usual sub-Cameron schtick, which as always fails to come off. When pressed by Eagle to concede he agreed with Unite leader Len McCluskey on the EU, Osborne parried the attack and shot back with a plea for “some consensus on other issues, such as an independent nuclear deterrent?”. Warming to the theme he proceeded to ask for a consensus “on supporting, rather than disparaging, businesses…on not piling debts on the next generation…and a consensus that the parties in this House should have a credible economic policy”. This is classic Cameron: ignore the question asked by your interlocutor and instead turn it back at them. Apart from it’s missing one vital component: humour.
In fact the only joke managed by the Chancellor was his barb that Labour’s inquiry into its electoral failure – titled Labour’s Future – was “surprisingly long”. Not bad, but he’s no Cameron, who will regularly finish a response with a humorous aside at the expense of his opposing number. Instead Osborne can’t help but look utterly artificial, like a poor version of one of those humanoid robots the Japanese are terribly fond of building. Minus the emotional warmth and basic mechanical competence. He just looks rigid at PMQs, even when lounging, trying in vain to replicate the PM’s louche, one elbow propping up the despatch box, other hand rattling off points with his thumb, style of debate. At one point when Eagle hit Osborne on the numerous Tory climbdowns he even attempted to do the PM’s serious face, which instead made him look like he was suffering a grave system malfunction. Clearly he’s lacking the emotion chip placed in later models. In fact, there’s a thought! While in Japan why doesn’t the Prime Minister ask for an upgrade, after all they must have more realistic humanoids than the Osborne-Bot 5000.