Hague went on the working capital scheme not working – but with Hague you know there’s a gag waiting. Out it came on the fourth question. She should step up to the plate, he said. When Chamberlain stumbled, Churchill came forward. The Commons mentally held the comparison for a moment, and Miliband made no attempt to conceal his relish. When Eden crossed the Atlantic, Hague continued, Supermac made his move. “This could be her moment,” he said – a mischievous echo of that comment she made after the local elections.
Hague shouldn't “focus on political gossip,” Harman responded. Cue Hague: “She shouldn’t describe her leadership campaign as political gossip” Labour MPs suggested that he didn’t know anything about running for leader. “I do know about that. I’m only a deputy now, but at least I’m a loyal one,” he said. Roars.
Fact is, Hague is not Deputy Leader (as Geoffrey Robinson later pointed out). Cameron urged him to take the title, but he resisted – hence fuelling talk that he won’t be fully engaged. Hague is brilliant, as he frequently demonstrates. But many, myself included, could see and hear a lot more from him.
It is worrying and terrifying to hear Harman quote Hague calling for deregulation as if this were shameful. A sign of where she would take the Labour Party: the emphasis on the type or regulation that has so stifled the economy. As Hague pointed out, the government has an entire department named after deregulation.
It’s disconcerting hearing Vince Cable speak using his own voice, rather than that of Nick Clegg, at PMQs. It’s like those few moments when Keith Harris spoke as Orville, but without holding the duck. He had a good line: will there be a Harriet’s Law about clawing back pensions? She waffled, and deployed a line she had been saving up if Hague had mentioned the banks: he was paid £30,000 by RBS for two speeches! I wonder how much Harman would fetch in the after-dinner circuit. That the Tories have such speaking talent on their front bench is not something Labour should be gleeful about.
And that was it. It went on too long, and they ended up going on about the electronic identification of sheep. As I say in my political column in tomorrow’s magazine, Labour is already in the throes of a leadership contest and Hague was right to point it out. Harman did acquit herself reasonably well: I’d be interested to learn if CoffeeHousers think she fared better than Gordon Brown. Next week, let’s have Ed Balls...
*This is what Alan Duncan called her in their debut exchange. It’s so good, I think I’ll keep using it.