You have to hand it to Rishi. I leave you to define the “it”. He surveys the apocalyptic comedy playing out in front of him with grace and good humour and the occasional glitch, as his clutch slips. You can’t blame him for that. He is surrounded by enemies, opponents, satirists, sociopaths, a sullen civil service and a malevolent judiciary: it’s marvellous his speaking functions function at all.
Indeed, as evidence of his resilience, he was able to reassure us that the Supreme Court had just endorsed the Rwanda plan with a couple of reservations, and that flights would be starting early next year. Or so I understood from what he said.
Keir almost managed to get out a decent joke out about Elon Musk, the reshuffle, the return of PM formerly known as Dave, the accumulating collapse of the Tory party and AI. It was a multi-dimensional affair with a punchline of “turning it off and turning it on again”. We all like that joke. Always have done. And Keir is so high in the polls he can fluff as much as he likes. He and his chancellor sat there like Easter Island statues, dreaming of the time when it will all be theirs to make a mess of, and to wave away criticism with lordly ease.
Speaking of which, there is a Spy cartoon of David Cameron on the wall of the press gallery staircase. He is looking down at a paper in his hand with amused indifference, nonchalant hand in pocket, elegant collar, upper class complexion. Actually, it’s George Curzon circa 1900 but the spirit of Eton travels through the generations. Is it worth recalling that Curzon’s prime minister, Lord Salisbury expressed the essence of Conservatism with his remark: “What do we need change for – aren’t things bad enough as they are?”
In any event, it was the stocky backbencher Kevin Brennan who won PMQs with a feline question to Rishi: “What was David Cameron’s greatest foreign policy achievement?” The word Brexit was ostentatiously unsaid. The great political disaster that caused the government to fall, for Cameron to resign and to engage in a little light lobbying on behalf of an Australian financier – all that struck Members at different times causing Commons laughter to ebb and flow in a ways that only the most successful jokes manage to do.
Several questioners accused the Government of moral failure for not demanding a ceasefire in Palestine. Blame, shame and accusations of genocide are the common coin of Middle East discourse, by its nature. And of course dead children do feature somewhere in the ethical calculation – but they are given different values by different interests, not all of them impartial. So, when Rishi called the accusation and the analysis on which it was based “naive” and “simplistic”, it sounded like a very proper response.
He might have said – but didn’t – that only one of the combatant parties has genocide explicitly written into its constitution. It’s odd how Rishi pulls his punches at the last minute. Is that why his reputation is as it is? His obituaries will doubtless make all that clear.
NB: James Cleverly sat beside the PM, displacing the Second Lord of the Treasury. He span a pen in and around his fingers in the way that cinematic villains do. Does he feel his time is coming? It may well be approaching. All he has to do is live to be 145.
He might give the new foreign Secretary a passing thought: Rex quondam, rexque futurus, as Eton says. All serious politicians consider the worst that could happen. The possibility of a second Cameron premiership would be well worth the Home Secretary bearing in mind.