Those hoping to see the ripping, radical, paradigm-busting Chancellor must have felt something missing. The poor fellow has been mutilated by events. The markets have dismembered him. The interesting parts of his plan have been excised. He was only partly there. He was Quasi Kwarteng.
Mark Harper (Rishi Sunak backer) asked him if he agreed with the IFS’s assessment that to balance the books he’d need £62 billion of cuts in four years. It’s what they call “fiscal tightening”. The Chancellor replied that he wasn’t going to “prejudge” what he was going to say at the end of the month. No decisions have been made. (What, none?) Questions of that sort more usually come from the other side. They must have made the Chancellor slightly nauseous.
So, Queasy Quasi went on to answer several similar questions from behind him. Kevin Hollinrake (Rishi backer) suggested expressionlessly that it would be better if his region didn’t suffer from cuts.
Mel Stride (Rishi) made an even more ominous intervention. The Chancellor should “reach out” to his backbenchers “to be absolutely certain he can get his measures through this House.” Mel Stride is not no one. He chairs the Treasury select committee. It’s impossible to believe this thinly-veiled threat didn’t shake the Chancellor a little.
Quivering Queasy Quasi – so disconcerted was he by the sullen mutiny of his friends – found himself praising the Office of Budget Responsibility. He even said, “Its independence is to me is sacrosanct.” This hanging jury of relentless lefties (see earlier Guido personnel analysis) is the very organisation that has been charged with the first word on his “medium-term fiscal plan”. He had very sensibly excluded them from his mini-budget. Now they will be sitting in judgement on him and providing all the attack lines the Today programme could wish for.
As to what his medium-term plans are, he was not forthcoming. “I’m not going to prejudge,” he said. He wasn’t going to say what the plan was because he didn’t know, and no decisions had been made. Was Queasy Quasi quibbling? I think we can say he quibbled. It wasn’t great quibbling but enough to see him through the awkward hour.
He was able to tell us that he was going to make sure that the vulnerable didn’t suffer and that iron fiscal discipline would be maintained. He promised that magic chewing gum from the Simpsons. “It both cleans AND straightens your teeth!”
The next Treasury Questions outing will be next month, directly after the medium-term plan has been presented by the quivering, queasy, quibbling quasi-Kwarteng. Make sure it’s in your diary.
Michael Gove, flanked by his campaign chief Nick Boles, making interventions from the backbenches this afternoon. No going on holiday or Gordon Brown disappearing act from Dave, who sat three rows back from the new Prime Minister. His attention wavered briefly when he started playing with his phone. Another happy reader…
Even McDonnell had a chuckle at that one…
And so today saw the Chancellor grace us with his first PMQs appearance for almost a month. Such reticence from the man is common these days. George Osborne is becoming increasingly Rasputin-eqsue. In the shadows he lurks, wielding power over the Tsar, dripping poison in his ear and making outlandish predictions for the future. “I’ll eradicate the debt and cut the deficit” he’ll whisper, “each family will be four thousand three hundred pounds worse off if we leave” he’ll hiss. And when his untruths and false promises are questioned, he retreats from view, leaving the ruler to lumber in on his behalf to placate the angry and ignored. Of course any man who knows his Russian history knows how this story ends. Old Rasputin was poisoned, shot, bludgeoned, and drowned by those angered by his influence, with the entire saga only further weakening the regime he was so bound up with and hastening its collapse. One wonders how long is till Osborne, like the Russian, washes up on the banks of the Thames, peppered with bullet holes but still faintly breathing, sighing “long… term… economic… plan”.
Onto proceedings. Nigel Adams got things underway by praising the “dignity and grace” of her Maj ahead of the big Nine O tomorrow, a day that promised to be “a proper knees up” at the very least. The PM reiterated the Selby MP’s sentiments, before laying a trap for his opposite number. “I know the whole country and the whole house”, Cameron innocently opined, “will want to join me in saying, Long may she reign o’er us”. Corbyn wouldn’t play ball. “Thank you Mr. Speaker”, he replied plainly, “I am also looking forward to wishing her a happy birthday tomorrow”, notably missing out any celebration of the continuation of her reign. In other words, have a good one Liz, but don’t have too many more.
As we endured the latest round of this miserably one-sided fight, my mind turned to the two men sitting to the left of their respective leaders.
It’s a decent bet (the double pays 22/1 with Paddy Power) that George Osborne and Tom Watson will be the next leaders of their parties, and will one day be squaring off against each other on these Wednesday lunchtimes, which would at least be more unpredictable.
Tom was doing his usual thing today, or at least his usual thing since he became Jeremy Corbyn’s deputy: utterly silent, smiling inscrutably, a look of faint amusement and utter detachment on his face.
The only times his lips tightened were when a backbench MP used Corbyn’s gaffe-a-thon with Andrew Marr on Sunday to allow the Prime Minister one of several free and gleeful hits on Trident, secondary picketing, and the Falklands, the latter a comradely gift from the DUP’s Nigel Dodds.
Obviously it wouldn’t do for Tom to smile when David Cameron is shoeing the poor, defenceless old man sitting next to him, but you wonder if these are also the moments when he realises Corbyn cannot go on much longer like this, and ponders being up at the despatch box himself very soon.
The stare isn’t going so well suddenly. It never worked, it only seemed to, with the Tories falling back in embarrassment. Corbyn read this as bullies being struck with silent wonder at the sight of proper, grown-up politics.
No, it was the reaction of an audience seeing an actor forgetting his lines, or a juggler dropping the ball, or a magician letting the cards fall out of his sleeve.
Tories weren’t able to barrack and wince at the same time.
But they’ve learnt. They have evolved. Today, they overcame their instinctive delicacy and resumed normal service.
And Corbyn went from Angry Chicken to Sick Chicken. Starting to speak, then stopping. Glaring, but getting confused by laughter and not-glaring. Glancing at the Speaker. No help there. Starting to speak again and having to continue through Tories shushing each other.
This chicken dies in the end.