That wasn’t PMQs. That was World Of Interiors. With members scattered across the country, the session took place in a sparse, hushed Chamber. Dominic Raab stood in for the Prime Minister and Keir Starmer made his first appearance as opposition leader. But this historic debut was eclipsed by MPs at home asking questions online.
This was an extraordinary day for the taxpayer who finally got to see the furnishings and ornaments selected by MPs.
First, the worst. Ed Davey needs an eye test. He appeared at a desk flanked by two luridly pigmented abstract paintings. One resembled a chess board with the squares coloured in at random, perhaps by a chimpanzee (or possibly by the owner). The other looked like a satellite image of crop-patterns in Idaho. Neither masterpiece would have detained a small child for longer than ten minutes.
Nick Fletcher tried to ask an important question about protective masks in the NHS. But his wallpaper drowned him out. Behind him, as he spoke, huge blue-grey swarms of vegetation seemed to spread across the wall in a chaotic proliferation of dark and light splotches. It’s no wonder he sounded angry. Emergency decorators are needed to spare him further distress. Might the army help?
Labour’s Ruth Cadbury was let down by her swivel-chair. Literally. She sat so low in her seat that she was cut off at the chin by her webcam. Her red lips spoke weirdly from the base of the screen.
Barry Gardiner, exquisitely turned out, had made all the right preparations for his noon appointment. The luxurious knot of his grey tie gleamed. His well-behaved beard was beautifully trimmed. You could almost smell the lavender deodorant in the air. Behind him a white sofa was visible with plumped-up cushions. Discreet artwork, tastefully framed, hung on the maroon walls. He looked every inch the millionaire dandy expecting a visit from his chiropodist. Which is not the right image for a socialist MP. And that sofa, in particular, might come back to haunt him. White furniture in a living room suggests a large complement of cleaning staff.
Several MPs, including Lucy Powell and Peter Bone, leaned very close to the camera which denied viewers a chance to assess the size of their homes (or second homes). Pernickety Matt Vickers had set up his camera in a bleached kiosk which appeared to have been pre-doused in antiviral paint-stripper. Clearly Vickers has followed NHS guidance to the letter. His question was equally punctilious.
‘Can he [Dominic Raab] confirm that the government remains committed to record levels of investment in the NHS so that the world’s greatest health service can become even better?’
A blatant bid to be anointed as Matt Hancock’s heir apparent.
Angela Eagle fared badly. Her black-framed spectacles looked judgemental and oppressive. Sunlight from an open window threw an angry shadow across half her face. Behind her soared great cliffs of dark and intimidating bookshelves, as if she were trapped in a Victorian prison library. Perhaps she arranged this uncompromising setting on purpose. Rather than asking a question she delivered a Trump-thumping rant about the president’s attacks on the World Health Organisation.
Today’s Oscar for camerawork goes to Nicola Richards. Her oval face glowed in the light of a baby-spotlight with a soft brown filter (‘gel straw’ in the trade.) She was seated in a homely room with shelves set at an angle containing books, ornaments and family portraits. Evidently the concerns of the mind and the heart are kept in balance here. She was the only MP who looked normal.