HENRY DEEDES: Paymaster General explaining the Christmas party scandal

‘Parties? No, they were gatherings,’ oozed the PM’s Clutcher-at-Straws: HENRY DEEDES watches the Paymaster General explaining the Christmas party scandal to Parliament

One of the upshots of the Downing Street party debacle is that it has left the Prime Minister somewhat short on friends.

Turns out even his Cabinet aren’t all that keen on going out to bat on his behalf. A stint in Brisbane against those terrifying Aussie quick bowlers without a box would probably be preferable. So Labour’s Urgent Question on the matter yesterday presented the Tory whips’ office with a problem. Who to send out and respond?

You can just imagine chief whip Mark Spencer’s discussion with his minions: ‘Just send that clown Gavin Williamson.’ ‘No, we sacked him.’ ‘What about Saj Javid?’ ‘Shampooing his hair, apparently.’ How they could have done with that trusty human flak jacket Matt Hancock.

And so it was that some bright spark hit upon the idea of dispatching Michael Ellis. ‘Good man Ellis,’ they will have concurred. ‘Sturdy. Dependable.’ QC Ellis answers to the modest title of Paymaster General, yet possesses the lofty pretensions of a powder-wigged courtier. For Ellis, the opportunity to throw his ample frame under a bus for the Prime Minister was not just some menial task. It was (cue French horns!) a signal honour. ‘Michael Ellis!’ yelled Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle just after 10.30am.

One of the upshots of the Downing Street party debacle is that it has left the Prime Minister somewhat short on friends

Ellis informed the House that the Cabinet Secretary would be investigating alleged ‘gatherings’ last November and December at both Downing Street and the Department for Education. Wonderful that description ‘gathering’. Far less gauche than ‘party’. One imagines the Ellis lip curling with satisfaction when he coined that one.

MPs sitting opposite Ellis erupted into hysterical bleating. ‘Gathering?’ they chorused. ‘Gathering? Gathering?’ The SNP’s Martin Docherty-Hughes (W Dunbartonshire) said it was a party, plain and simple.

‘If something looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and it’s at a Christmas party, it’s usually a duck!’ he chirped.

Fastidious little chap, Docherty-Hughes. In another life, he would have been an irritating planning officer who delights in informing people when their roof extension has been constructed at the wrong gradient. Worse, he appeared to be wearing white socks.

The consensus among opposition MPs was that the PM was a cad. Several called on him to resign. Ellis stiffened his spine and thumbed his lapels. ‘I have known the Prime Minister many years,’ he intoned, voice as rich and creamy as thick butter soup. ‘He is a man of honesty and integrity…’ Yes, well. From the deserted government benches there came a brave suggestion from Sir Desmond Swayne (Con, New Forest W). He ventured that when these No 10 ‘gatherings’ occurred, the PM could have been in his flat blissfully unaware they were taking place.

Ellis nodded approvingly. ‘It is certainly true as a matter of geography that No 10 Downing Street is a very large property with a multitude of offices and with many, many people working inside it,’ he replied. A High Court might possibly consider such a defence to be the perfect illustration of clutching at straws.

So it was that some bright spark hit upon the idea of dispatching Michael Ellis. ‘Good man Ellis,’ they will have concurred. ‘Sturdy. Dependable’

Labour’s benches heckled and wailed. Roisterer-in-chief was Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) who behaved like he was at a Bernard Manning show. When someone mentioned that the PM’s wife Carrie had given birth, they grumbled ungraciously. Not a soul murmured any approval. Classy. Insults for Boris continued thick and fast. That eternal rain cloud Carol Monaghan (SNP, Glasgow NW) suggested the PM ‘go back to watching Peppa Pig and let the grown-ups run the country’. Her attention-prone colleague Anum Qaisar (Airdrie) described the PM as ‘sneaky, manipulative and corrupt’.

Once again Ellis straightened himself and peered regally over his spectacles.

‘I know the Prime Minister,’ he replied. ‘He is a friend of mine and I know him to be a man of honour and integrity…’ Good man, Ellis. Sturdy. Dependable. That knighthood is in the bag, surely.

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