The White Knight Starmer mounted his high horse… but Sir Gav was already slain: HENRY DEEDES watches Rishi Sunak at PMQs
Poor Rishi Sunak. One minute he’s getting his ego stroked by the big boys at Cop27. The next, he’s back in the Commons clearing up the trails of snail slime left by Sir Gavin Williamson’s brief return to Cabinet.
The air of comedown that hung over the Prime Minister at PMQs yesterday was palpable. Tony Blair used to wear the same despondent look when he returned from schmoozing assorted Silvios and Sergios in Europe, only to find himself forced to go to the House to smooth over another of John Prescott’s Olympic-grade political belly flops.
L’affaire Williamson, which had culminated with Sir Gavin quitting the Cabinet the previous evening following allegations of bullying, naturally created high excitement on Labour’s benches.
There was loud heckling from deputy leader Angela Rayner, Stockport’s silver-tongued charmer who once famously branded all Conservatives ‘Tory scum’.
HENRY DEEDES: Poor Rishi Sunak. One minute he’s getting his ego stroked by the big boys at Cop27. The next, he’s back in the Commons clearing up the trails of snail slime left by Sir Gavin Williamson’s brief return to Cabinet
HENRY DEEDES: L’affaire Williamson, which had culminated with Sir Gavin quitting the Cabinet the previous evening following allegations of bullying, naturally created high excitement on Labour’s benches
Meanwhile, we heard overly aggressive questions from Birmingham Hodge Hill’s Liam Byrne (suspended by Labour earlier this year for bullying a former member of staff) and Neil Coyle (also suspended by Labour over allegations he made racist remarks to a junior journalist). Honestly. The stench of hypocrisy in this place is so noxious at times you need to don an oxygen mask before entering.
On the highest of high horses, of course, sat Sir Keir Starmer. He was so luxuriating in his occupancy of the moral high ground as he rose to his feet that he had the air of a man about to anoint the Despatch Box with holy water and deliver a blessing.
Another look, you might say, which could have been plucked straight from the Sir Anthony Charles Lynton Blair museum of face masks.
The Great White Knight informed the House that everyone in the country had at some time worked with a Gavin Williamson. The sort of ‘pathetic bully’ and ‘sad middle manager’ who gets off on ‘intimidating those beneath him while the boss (in this case the Prime Minister) callously looked the other way’.
He’s right, of course. We’ve all toiled alongside berks such as Sir Gav. Then again, most of us have probably also worked under tiresome bores like Sir Keir, too.
You all know the type. Petty, nit-picking line managers who write officious emails, hold ‘strategy meetings’ and whose idea of a team treat is to pass a packet of Viennese whirls around on a Friday afternoon.
HENRY DEEDES: On the highest of high horses, of course, sat Sir Keir Starmer. He was so luxuriating in his occupancy of the moral high ground as he rose to his feet that he had the air of a man about to anoint the Despatch Box with holy water and deliver a blessing
Incidentally, one of those who had fallen victim to the full force of Williamson’s poisoned tongue, former chief whip Wendy Morton, chose to make an appearance yesterday. She took up a prominent position at the front of the chamber and wore a bright red dress which, perhaps not entirely coincidentally, made her impossible to miss.
Ms Morton spent the entire session wearing the sort of hangdog expression so beloved of female guests on the Jeremy Kyle Show when they were explaining how they’d recently caught the boyfriend in flagrante with the postman.
Starmer made an improbable attempt to link the PM’s failure to confront Williamson to his reticence to increase windfall taxes on energy companies.
What chance did the PM have of standing up to Big Business when he couldn’t even stand up to a ‘cartoon bully with a spider’? he asked, a reference to Williamson’s pet tarantula Cronus.
A tad disrespectful, surely. Poor Cronus passed on to that great spider web in the sky over a year ago.
Mr Sunak was at least able to point out that Williamson had now gone from his job. His behaviour had been ‘unacceptable’, he admitted. But there remained a sense of astonishment over why he had been allowed back in the first place – not least from the Conservatives benches.
Not since John Bercow condescended to his colleagues from the Speaker’s Chair has there been such loathing of one of their own.
Of Mr Williamson himself there was no sign. If he has any sense, he’ll be catching the first the plane out to Brisbane and begging ITV to let him into the I’m A Celebrity jungle. The reptiles would probably welcome him as one of their own.
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