House leader, merchant extraordinary and, following the resignation of Lord Frost, the last National Insurance rebel to remain in Cabinet, Jacob Rees-Mogg was waging war on several fronts at Business Questions on Thursday.
But, as always, the Head of Commons conducted hostilities stealthily, under a veneer of tangerine politeness à la Sir Humphry.
Mr Rees-Mogg’s counterpart Thangam Debbonaire set a predictable trap with a knowing gaze, praising him for joining Labor in opposing increases in national insurance.
“I wonder, is he about to cross the floor?” ” she smiles. But the Commons leader fired back in kind, praising Ms Debbonaire for her own late conversion to the Conservative Policy Unit’s “taxpayers’ money” approved term and the potential VAT reduction opportunities of Brexit.
Another favorite tip was the unsolicited history lesson, often with only a glance relevant to the question. A demand for debate on the future of the A5 motorway sparked a hymn to the Roman roads.
When it comes to Christmas restrictions in Scotland, Mr Rees-Mogg said, the SNP looked like Emperor Hirohito at the end of World War II in conceding total defeat.
But perhaps the most egregious example came when Ms Debbonaire’s question about the latest crime statistics prompted a eulogy to Sir Robert Peel, the ‘Conservative father of modern police’.
Nostalgic readers may remember Clippy, the anthropomorphic cartoon paperclip that haunted older versions of Microsoft Word. Time and time again, Clippy would appear, offering advice on even the most pathetically simple tasks – “You look like you’re writing a letter, would you like some help?” ”
Mr Rees-Mogg displayed Clippy-style smiling persistence and a hint of the quality of the virtual PA’s eyes as he spoke about conservative policing lore. “You sound like you’re asking a tricky question about crime rates, would you like to hear from Robert Peel who founded the London Met in 1829? ”
Poor Thangam Debbonaire, like the Microsoft user of the 1990s, looked desperate to turn off the irritating desktop assistant – to no avail.
The SNP’s Pete Wishart – rarely given to sharp precision in his thoughts when a rambling theatrical monologue will do – has raged on the return of the in-person debates to Westminster. He praised the common sense of Holyrood MSPs to connect virtually, unlike PMQ’s Commons.
“The 650 members could attend if they wanted, and yesterday a good chunk of them ended up in a packed house,” he said – spitting the word “packed” in disgust, as he did. a 19th century temperance activist about the perils of “demonic drink”.