It’s deputies day.
George Osborne deputised for David Cameron, who is on an official visit to Poland, meaning Angela Eagle, the shadow first secretary of state and business secretary, stood in for Jeremy Corbyn. A scattergun of subjects, but the top line was probably Osborne’s announcement of a £50m fund for flood victims.
Old PMQs isn’t so bad after all, is it? Certainly not on the basis of this exchange. That was a bit more like PMQs used to be, before Corbyn smothered it in seriousness, and although it was not particularly enlightening, it was at least jolly. Neither deputy really won, but Eagle was impressive because she managed to needle Osborne quite well while also quoting Tony Blair in a manner that won the approval of Labour MPs (a feat no one else has managed from the Labour frontbench for almost 10 years, it seems) and, at the same time, affectionately mocking Corbyn’s PMQ strategy.
Eagle’s performance certainly seemed to please Labour MPs. She was genuinely funny, sharp and unifying. She was not critical of Corbyn, but adopted a tone that was distinctively different and asked a question that in effect mocked his crowdsourcing PMQs strategy. She also had the ideal response to Osborne’s inevitable jibe about Tony Blair’s Spectator article. She quoted Blair saying:
Just mouth the words ‘five more Tory years’ and you feel your senses and reason repulsed by what they had done to this country
It is from a speech Blair gave in 1996. The only possible drawback with Eagle’s performance was that it was too funny; her jokes slightly blunted her political edge.
That was not the case with Osborne. In his exchanges with Eagle, and in PMQs generally, he seemed slightly too eager to apply the political cosh. This was most apparent when he was asked a question by an SNP MP about how the government intended to honour its promise to ensure that mothers do not lose child tax credits if their third child is born as a result of a rape.
Osborne’s reply, which involved a default response about welfare reform, was emotionally tone deaf. Overall, though, he was perfectly competent. But it served as a reminder that doing PMQs is actually much harder than it looks and David Cameron, who has now had 10 years’ practice, is a hard act to follow.
For more on PMQs, read our politics live blog with Andrew Sparrow.
This article was written by Andrew Sparrow, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 9th December 2015 13.25 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010