When Cameron and his even smoother deputy meet, it must be like swimming in double cream
RISHI Sunak gave his new cabinet a pep talk, earnestly informing his crack operatives they were ‘strong and united’, ‘energetic and enthusiastic’.
The English do not always like being told that they are energetic or enthusiastic – it smacks too much of PT lessons – but Mr Sunak’s ministers smiled goatishly, eager to do the right thing. The Prime Minister welcomed those who were making Cabinet debuts (a flutter of coy eyelashes) and ‘those for whom it may not be their first time’. This triggered laughter, for opposite Mr Sunak sat David Cameron, monumental and motionless, the prophet Elijah attending a parochial church council meeting. Lord Cameron had ambled over from the Foreign Office, accompanied by his sidekick Andrew Mitchell, overseas aid minister. Is ‘amble’ really the verb? Like ‘saunter’, it is possibly a little below his lordship. Nor will ‘meander’ do because it implies absence of purpose and our new Foreign Secretary is magnificent at projecting pumpedlip statesmanship. He can probably make even the decapitation of his breakfast boiled egg resemble an act of ritual seppuku.
Mr Sunak, talking a touch too fast, told his team they were taking ‘big, bold decisions to drive change – so let’s get to work!’ Jeremy Hunt, Chancellor, stared at him wide-eyed, be it in wonderment or incredulity. On Mr Sunak’s other side a civil servant, Emma Churchill, remained as impassive as Harriet Harman watching speeded- up musical sequences in The Benny Hill Show.
ON their walk to No 10, Mr Mitchell stayed half a pace behind his new Secretary of State, as decreed by political etiquette. The wise chamberlain never overtakes his emperor. For Mr Mitchell, these must be days of mixed emotions. He no doubt feels he himself would have made a fine foreign secretary. Nor is this the first time he has worked for Mr Cameron, having been his chief whip at least two ice ages ago. And yet Mr Mitchell thought Suella Braverman a complete fright, vulgar beyond words. Win some, lose some.
In the Commons later, Mr Hunt introduced his new Treasury ministers to the House. They were, he alleged, ‘outstanding’. The new Financial Secretary, Nigel Huddleston, would ‘work out how to bring taxes down’. His predecessor Victoria Atkins had been made Health Secretary and would therefore ‘no doubt be trying to push them up’.
Richard Fuller (Con, North East Beds) noted that Labour MPs kept suggesting new taxes to a Labour front bench that tried to bat them away, while Tory MPs kept suggesting tax cuts to a government that tried to bat them away. Mr Huddleston, not the nimblest of ballerinas: ‘I thank my honourable friend.’
Mr Mitchell arrived to make a statement about Israel, deputising for his pasha. If anything, he was even smoother than Cameron. When the two of them are in a meeting together, it must be like swimming in double cream. His immaculate suit, apricot tie and floppy fringe were matched by an echoey voice, spankingly pukka: ‘settlah’ for settler, ‘izzuy’ for issue. ‘Effectively’ was given a sharp flick on the second syllable: ‘ef-fictiv-lia’.
Opposite sat Labour’s Einstein, David Lammy, who can’t even say ‘new’ without making it ‘noo’. He and Alicia Kearns (Con), the pub darts champ manque who chairs the foreign affairs committee, moaned that Mr Cameron would be dodging democratic scrutiny. Mr Mitchell indicated that Dave would submit to bi-monthly examination by Ms Kearns.
And then, as the sun sank and Evensong’s bell tolled from St Margaret’s, a Sidewinder missile landed on Downing Street: Suella’s letter to Rishi! Longer than Psalm 119, more full of brimstone than anything in the Old Testament. ‘This is for the best,’ wrote Suella. The language of a smashed love affair. V. v. cross. A mad granny belabouring a shop manager with her furled brolly. Bill Deedes, when editing The Daily Telegraph, used to react to angry missives by telling his secretary: ‘Ettie, file it under L for loony’.