The first PMQs of summer proper, and Labour came out flowering in sky blues, hot pinks and blood reds. Dawn Butler in green and orange came as a traffic light. Other combinations gave off the radioactive glow of a bowl of Smarties. At the bar, Harriet Harman – assassin, giant-killer, a Judith with Holofernes’ fresh blonde head in her handbag – exchanged words with Theresa May (what did they have to talk about?). The former took her place amid sisterly applause for her recent achievement, the latter went to her lonely spot amongst her sullen colleagues.
Did I say sullen? I meant grieving. Dressed for an English funeral the Tory benches have had, so Guido understands, a weekend looking into the pit. Middle class, two-job couples are losing their homes on account of mortgage rates – and they blame Tories. It’s unclear – and probably doesn’t matter – whether it was Liz Truss who “crashed the economy” (technical term denoting mental impairment on the part of the speaker) or whether it was the £300bn of public spending racked up to keep people at home for a year. It’s a Tory problem to which there is no solution except Keir Starmer’s (one I hadn’t heard before, from him, at PMQs), “Call a general election!”
Keir also managed to locate a sentimental bone, I had complacently thought to lack. The people elevated in the Boris Honours were partying the night before the Queen sat alone at her husband’s funeral. Dammit! There it is again, that starting smart behind the eyes.
Having said that, our elfin PM gave a little better than he was given. When it comes to peerages – what about Tom Watson (oof!) Shami Chakrabati (argh!) and the third blow in a wonderfully rapid three-punch combination “I would have thought a knight like him would understand that.”
Whatever their respective merits, Rishi’s despatch box performance is far more entertaining than his predecessor’s. Wittier, defter, more alert, more responsive, more agile. Boris clowned according the steps prepared in clown school. Rishi dances to the music of the moment. Boris went straight to a small number of stock responses, very often ignoring the question. Rishi courteously does what he can to tailor his answer to the questioner. “Manners Makyth Man”. Winchester beating Eton. That has to sting, as only the best manners can.
The PM also managed to haul in the name, actions and record of the most influential politician of the 21st century. Ed Miliband’s new energy policy threatens 200,000 jobs and will increase our dependence on Putin and other despots. Where Gordon Brown argued “British jobs for British workers, the hon gent is wanting British jobs for Russian workers.”
Are there votes in Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion? Certainly not when the lights go out and electricity is ten times the price of gas, instead of four times. That’s a little way off yet. But only a little
Maybe Tories are increasingly seeing the merits of letting another party take the blame? Goodness knows, no one has had the imaginative scope to realise the chaos, the carnage, the industrial catastrophes that are in store when Net Zero starts to bite. Only real, power-at-any-price politicians would want to be anywhere near that.
Hang on. Only real politicians. Only politicians.
That’s why Tories grieve and Labour is all so floral.
To finish with a cheerful little round-up of the session’s imbecilities. Nottingham’s “victims and families are always in our hearts” (No, they aren’t.) “The British public deserve so much better” (No, they don’t). “Capital spending limits in the NHS are ridiculous” (Yes, a trillion quid should should shorten waiting lists) and “Carers’ value is priceless.” (It’s actually £8.75 an hour).