A piece by the peerless sketchwriter Quentin Letts in today’s Times:
They have only been back three days but MPs are already polluting the air with pious exaggeration. Who do they think they are? Sketchwriters? This morning, various grievance merchants started pogo-sticking up and down about the possible appointment of a former Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, as a British trade envoy. Aussie Abbott was the Westminster village’s dish du jour. Little else mattered. Take a biff at Abbott and you might earn yourself a few retweets. That’s how to win power!
Ruth Cadbury (Lab) had not managed to make it in from her Brentford & Isleworth constituency — maybe she was waiting for an Ocado delivery — but she did use her virtual slot at trade questions to fulminate that Mr Abbott was “a misogynist and a homophobe”. “Could the government not find a candidate for this role who demonstrates British values?” Ah yes, the olde British value of false indignation.
Christian Matheson (Lab, Chester) cried that “the appointment of the sexist and homophobe Tony Abbott is also the appointment of a climate change denier”. On Sky News, Matt Hancock, secretary of state for coronavirus, was trying to explain a £500 million programme of quick Covid tests. Hancock was Abbotted. Sky’s presenter wanted to know why the government was giving a job to “a homophobe and a misogynist”. Hancock: “He’s also an expert in trade.” That “also” was straight from TV’s The Thick Of It.
Liz Truss, trade secretary, was ballsier. She reached into her slender handbag, extracted an enormous mallet and proceeded to whack Cadbury over the head, at length. “It is absolute hypocrisy,” she began, in that voice that razors through whale fat, “to hear this argument from the Labour Party. Until recently they had a shadow chancellor who called for the lynching of one of my female colleagues and never apologised for it. They’d rather virtue-signal and indulge in tokenism rather than take real action to improve the lives of women.”
Speaker Hoyle tried to soothe things but soon Ms Truss was taking her truncheon to Mr Matheson. “The reality,” she said as she applied the first blow, “is that those on the left of politics always are intolerant of anyone who doesn’t agree with them but are prepared to defend anything from their own friends, like the former shadow chancellor and his call to lynch one of my female colleagues!” Cheers from the bedraggled Tory benches. Speaker Hoyle again begged for sweet calm and this time was more successful. Ms Truss’s bloodlust was sated. She popped her bludgeon back in her clutch bag and beamed in the direction of what remained of Mr Matheson, his skull just about visible above the Commons carpet, a tent-peg driven deep into the soil.
Did she say “hypocrisy”? It pulsates on both sides. At PMQs the day before, Boris Johnson took a gratuitous, pointless swipe at Sir Constipation Starmer for consorting with the nastiness of Corbynism. Labour MPs were appalled. Aghast. “Withdraw!” they cried. Now that Labour MPs were copying Boris’s dubious example, and slagging off him for consorting with Mr Abbott, it was the Tories’ turn to be appalled, aghast, etc.
We should probably note that Mr Abbott, when some of these things were put to him on Tuesday, said he had been misquoted. Not that he much minded. He seems pretty bullet-proof. Likewise, there were antsy exchanges yesterday between Ms Truss and one of her shadows, the generally civilised Paul Blomfield. Outside the chamber immediately afterwards they were chatting and laughing with each other. It’s all a game to these people. But not, perhaps, to the citizenry.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the under-used Commons leader, later gave his weekly update on business. There was an affectionate mention of Julia, a staff member in the tea-room. Wishing her a speedy recovery from recent illness, Mr Rees-Mogg said that Julia spread “sweetness and light — something politicians do not always do”.
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