Just as a preliminary note, Gavin Williamson was a terrible bully. Awful. He was just no good at it at all. His one accomplishment was in persuading people he had a talent for it. The spider on his desk. The creepy smile. The dead-fish handshake. The official positions he mysteriously acquired. But the vast majority of his techniques – the ones we saw in text form – were pitiful. Nothing he said or did needed any other reaction than, “Gavin. You’re a nob. Don’t talk to me anymore.’
That said – Keir’s first serve was a tempting lob. He said, with what pulp fiction writers call deadly emphasis, that Gavin Williamson “had told a civil servant to – slit – their – throat.” Many ripostes sprang to mind, none of which would have been, on reflection, prime ministerial. Guido smothered more than one snort of laughter and just as well, what with the pious silence into which the benches had sunk.
“How does he think the victim of that bullying felt when he expressed great sadness at his resignation?” Keir asked. Rishi didn’t know the answer to that, but who did? Who could possibly guess how the news was received. With raucous laughter? Jubilant finger-pointing at the wireless? Celebratory sexual intercourse? A haka?
Rishi made a prime ministerial show of sorrow. He is, remember, perfectly good at the despatch box although his apology looks a little unconvincing in cold print. “I obviously regret appointing someone who has had to resign.”
Keir has lifted his game. He came back more than once in a pretty good rhetorical crescendo. Letting Williamson run unchecked in the party “normalized bullying behaviour,” and, more pointedly, “It was precisely why the prime minister gave him a job.” And that “he would never get away with it if the people like the prime minister didn’t hand him power.”
Everyone in the country knew someone like Gavin, Keir went on, and everyone also knew someone like RIshi (and here it started to get personal) “The boss who is so weak, so worried the bullies will turn on him that he hides behind him.” Oh, and “Thanks them for their loyalty.”
So far so good – but then a sign that Keir has found a new resource either within or without himself. He went from the personal to the political, saying that if Rishi couldn’t stand up to pathetic, sad little middle managers, how could he stand up to vested interests like Shell? “They made £26 billion record profit this year. How much have they paid under his so-called windfall tax?”
Rishi’s diminuendo had started with his claim that his “government would be characterised by professionalism, integrity and accountability”. Dear me! the House thought. He responded to the ‘how much’ question with a plaintive “I was the one who introDUCED the windfall tax,” and opened himself up to a counter-wallop by claiming that Keir supported the protesters. Even Guido has heard Keir condemning the road protesters – it’s part of his detoxification strategy. Keir, ascendant, said he was against all of those causing chaos, so many of whom were sitting on the government benches.
There were shouts, hooting, general cries of “chaos!” Keir sat down, he must have been pleased. And his parents would have been proud. He had very successfully bullied his opposite number.