Steerpike

Michael Ellis gets another grilling

Michael Ellis gets another grilling
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Another day, another party, another Urgent Question – and another dreadful outing for Michael Ellis. The Paymaster-General was sent out again, just three hours after the Met Police confirmed it would be probing 'partygate.' Deploying the finest lawyerly evasions and the best of his oleaginous charm, Ellis spent a gruelling 45 minutes fending off a barrage of outraged opposition MPs. 

Highlights include the Member for Northampton North appearing to indulge in existentialism by questioning the very meaning of the word 'party'. He mused to colleagues that 'If whilst at work, someone eats a piece of cake for ten minutes, I don't think conclusions can be drawn from that' and suggesting that 'Ten minutes of eating cake and wishing someone happy birthday would not a party make.' The Kierkegaard of the Commons, indeed.

Ellis, of course, has more than a hint of Jacob Rees-Mogg in his voice and the Leader of the House would be proud of some of the put-downs deployed by his ministerial colleague. After Lib Dem leader Ed Davey delivered a pompous 30-second lecture on ethics, Ellis responded cooly: 'Well I thank him for his advice on probity but he will forgive me if I decline to follow it.' And when an irate Drew Hendry bitterly fumed against the ironies of the situation, the minister shot back: 'If there's anything ironic, it is the Scottish National Party.' Cue laughs all round on the Tory benches.

The troops were out in force today, having been presumably dragooned by the under-fire whips. And this show of support translated into noticeably more 'helpful' interventions than last time out. Most were keen to claim constituents want them to 'move on' from the Downing Street shenanigans, while some went even further. Somehow Mark Jenkinson managed to suggest with a straight face that No. 10's festivities were the result of Labour MPs being 'in cahoots' with the media while Stuart Anderson said that every minute spent discussing partygate 'strengthens Putin’s hand.' Mr S hears they talk of little else in the Kremlin...

Still, humbug wasn't just confined to the Tory side. Labour MP Debbie Abrahams asked whether ministers had assessed the 'damage that Partygate has on our economy, on inward investment' — claims which even the most talented Labour press officer would struggle to spin. Overall, Steerpike suspects Ellis will be relieved today's fortnightly outing went better than his last one. After his manful efforts on such a sticky wicket, Mr S predicts a hereditary peerage, let alone a knighthood, would be in order – if England's cricket team don't call him up first.

Written bySteerpike

Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to steerpike@spectator.co.uk or message @MrSteerpike

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Topics in this articlePoliticsmichael ellispartygate