Give him a tin of WD-40 to keep his cogs turn­ing

Daily Mail - - News -

AMIXED day for the Trea­sury in the Com­mons. Ge­orge Os­borne had a fine old time, hap­pily pick­ing fights and telling that vain canker­worm Den­nis Skin­ner (Lab, Bolsover) it was time he re­tired. Cue hoots from sev­eral sides.

Less en­cour­ag­ingly for the Govern­ment, the new Trea­sury Chief Sec­re­tary, Danny Alexan­der, had his first go at the despatch box. As an Aus­tralian might say af­ter find­ing the re­mains of his pet kan­ga­roo crisped on a neigh­bour’s bar­bie: ‘Aw, mate, that was pretty or­di­nary.’

Mr Alexan­der, a bag of nerves, froze. He com­pletely seized up and then pro­duced a gob­ble of in­co­her­ent words. Be­fore fu­ture par­lia­men­tary ex­pe­di­tions his fel­low min­is­ters might like to equip them­selves with a tin of WD-40 to make sure his cogs keep turn­ing.

Let us deal chiefly with Mr Os­borne. Not for him the emol­lient way of the Prime Min­is­ter. A lit­tle con­text here: for the past five years, Shadow Chan­cel­lor Os­borne had to take much of the or­dure piled on the Tories by the Labour Govern­ment. In part that goes with the ter­ri­tory. In part it is Mr Os­borne’s char­ac­ter. He can as­sume a nasal, em­phatic air at the despatch box, re­in­forc­ing re­marks by point­ing a crooked knuckle. This jars with op­po­nents and does not al­ways im­press neu­trals.

The per­son Mr Os­borne re­minded me of most yes­ter­day was Gor­don Brown circa 1997. He teased Op­po­si­tion MPs for not be­ing in step with in­ter­na­tional opin­ion and of­fered them arch ad­vice on how they should con­duct them­selves. His an­swers kept not­ing ap­par­ent in­con­sis­ten­cies in the other side’s po­si­tion. Pure Brown.

An­drew Love (Lab, Ed­mon­ton) re­gret­ted the ‘out­break of com­pet­i­tive aus­ter­ity across Europe’, with var­i­ous coun­tries an­nounc­ing deficit­cut­ting mea­sures. Mr Os­borne im­me­di­ately saw this through the prism of past Labour ar­gu­ments. He noted that ‘for years we had to put up with lec­tures from Labour about how Europe didn’t agree with us!’

Ian Austin (Lab, Dud­ley) sought to make an in­ter­ven­tion. Mr Os­borne agreed to take it, if only be­cause he hoped Mr Austin could tell us the where­abouts of his friend Mr Brown. Much as one un­der­stood his rea­son for go­ing on the at­tack – Mr Austin is him­self a pun­gent par­ti­san – the Os­borne re­sponse felt need­lessly ag­gres­sive. But the Tory benches like it. They are slowly get­ting the hang of con­fronta­tion.

These ex­changes came dur­ing the last day of the Queen’s Speech de­bate. An­other big crowd. It re­ally does feel bet­ter in the Com­mons at present: at­ten­tive faces, can­nier ques­tions, ev­ery­thing quicker and more adult.

The ear­lier row with Mr Skin­ner was hardly grown-up but the many peo­ple who find Skin­ner a pre­dictable bore will have en­joyed it. The 78-year-old had at­tacked the Royal Fam­ily, say­ing he hoped the cuts would re­duce the Queen’s Civil List pay­ments.

Mr Os­borne did not dig­nify this with a proper re­ply. Mr Skin­ner has for years in­ter­rupted Mr Os­borne with al­le­ga­tions that he used to take drugs. So far as I know, these al­le­ga­tions have noth­ing to them but be­cause Mr Skin­ner ut­ters them in the Com­mons, he can not be sued.

MR

OS­BORNE sim­ply told Mr Skin­ner that if he was in­ter­ested in sav­ing money, ‘per­haps early re­tire­ment is some­thing he could con­sider’. Mr Skin­ner was fu­ri­ous. He rose to his feet again, mouth agape like a gold­fish. The House laughed at him.

For the next ten min­utes Mr Skin­ner, try­ing to re­trieve es­teem, re­verted to his drugs ac­cu­sa­tions. He did some nose ges­tures and said, ‘how many lines have you had to­day?’ For one of his great age, it did not seem wildly ma­ture. Mr Os­borne again snapped: ‘ Go take your pen­sion!’ More laugh­ter. Mr Skin­ner left the Cham­ber a short while later.

All this helped draw at­ten­tion away from the un­cer­tain per­for­mance of Mr Alexan­der, who was thrown into dis­ar­ray by a com­par­a­tively straight­for­ward ques­tion from Tom Wat­son (Lab, West Bromwich E) about David Cameron’s spin doc­tor. If Mr Alexan­der is to be­come an ef­fi­cient bud­get cut­ter he will need to be­come less flabby.

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