PM looked as if he were sashaying into a Riviera nightclub
Blasé Rishi Sunak looked as if he were sashaying into a Riviera nightclub: HENRY DEEDES watches the confident Prime Minister face down a rag tag ensemble of Parliamentary misfits
Tight suit, snazzy tie and a grin bright enough to sandblast the entire west face of Westminster Abbey. Rishi Sunak waltzed into the Boothroyd Room in Portcullis House yesterday looking so blasé that he might have been a velvet-tongued, tombeur de femmes sashaying into a Riviera nightclub.
The Prime Minister was making his debut in front of that self-important outfit that grandly refers to itself as the Commons Liaison Committee. Cor! With a name like that one would assume he was facing a crack team made up of Parliament’s most ruthless, hard-nosed interrogators.
Well, not quite. Actually, the committee is more a rag tag ensemble of misfits, malcontents and pumped-up Parliamentary pooh bahs.
Tight suit, snazzy tie and a grin bright enough to sandblast the entire west face of Westminster Abbey
No wonder Rishi looked so confident – and rightly so. A grilling? There are chunks of Japanese tuna floating around sushi bar conveyor belts that have come closer to being flambéd than the PM yesterday.
Master of ceremonies was Sir Bernard Jenkin (Con, Harwich). Dear, doddery Sir Bernard. Always fussing. Obsessed with the time. In weary, headmasterly tones, he advised the PM that the quicker he answered their questions, the quicker he could be gone.
Up first was Intelligence Committee chief Alicia Kearns (Con, Rutland & Melton). Ms Kearns fancies herself as a foreign policy expert and prefers not to wear her knowledge lightly. She hogged a lot of the opening conversation before asking Rishi what was keeping him awake at night in regard to China.
The Prime Minister was making his debut in front of that self-important outfit that grandly refers to itself as the Commons Liaison Committee. Cor! With a name like that one would assume he was facing a crack team made up of Parliament’s most ruthless, hard-nosed interrogators. Well, not quite
Absolutely nothing would be my guess. He looks like a man who sleeps better than a toddler.
Labour’s Clive Betts (Lab, Sheffield South East) made a plea on behalf of Ukrainian families taken in by British households earlier this year. Many are now left homeless, he said, as their hosts can no longer afford to accommodate them due to the cost of living.
Partly true, though tragically one suspects some families may simply feel they’ve done as much as they can manage. Sadly, like eggs, house guests tend to have an expiry date.
Fifteen minutes in and so far so tame. Then came a fiery interlude from Dame Diana Johnson (Lab, Kingston upon Hull) over the government’s Rwanda policy. She asked how many asylum seekers the government planned to send to Rwanda by the end of next year.
Rishi said he couldn’t comment on a ‘commercial contract’.
As for Parliamentary scribblers, it was all proving rather agonising. An hour in and they were still scratching around desperately for something on which to report. So far we had learned nada, other than the PM refused to commit to a fuel duty freeze next year
Hmm. Unfortunate phrase that ‘commercial contract’. Made it all sound hideously transactional. Dame Diana fixed the PM with an icy glare. From then on, Rishi treated her much as one might treat an unexploded hand grenade. With extreme caution.
With Johnson’s colleagues, however, Rishi chose to be all smiles and matey first name terms. The Committee, it should be said, were not sufficiently charmed. It is noticeable Mr Sunak is yet to acquire the necessary aura of leadership about him. By contrast, Tony Blair used to have them eating out of his palm like paddock ponies within minutes.
As for Parliamentary scribblers, it was all proving rather agonising. An hour in and they were still scratching around desperately for something on which to report. So far we had learned nada, other than the PM refused to commit to a fuel duty freeze next year.
Hardly hold the front page stuff. Boris Johnson used to put his foot in it so many times at these outings that reporters could furnish their newsdesks with entire essays.
Amazingly, there were hardly any questions on the nurses’ strikes. Perhaps it wasn’t the best day for Health Committee secretary Steve Brine (Con, Winchester) to call off sick. Flu, apparently. Mind you, it’s a shame some of the usual hordes of spads and political hangers on attending didn’t do the same. There was more coughing and spluttering than in a war time sanatorium.
Sir Bill Cash (Con, Stone) entered the fray. Uh oh. Sir Bernard blanched. Sir Bill’s queries tend to come armed with more sub clauses than a Premier League footballer’s contract. When he speaks, elbows fall off arm rests. Eyelids sag.
Sure enough, a question he asked about the online safety bill went on so long his neighbour, poor old Sir Bob Neill (Con, Bromley), looked ready to expire.
After just over 90 minutes, Sir Bernard put us out of our misery. He thanked Rishi and wondered if he might be able to make more time for the committee when he next dropped by. No response from the PM.
Unscathed, he was already darting out to the corridor, quite possibly throwing his jacket over one shoulder and whistling as he went.
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