Opponents tee themselves up for another thrashing as Leader of the House calls Labour ‘the party of goalhangers’.
Barely had Penny Mordaunt announced the weekly business when the heckling began. “Shame,” snarked someone on the Labour benches, at the first mention of the Illegal Migration Bill.
This was a sparsely-populated debate, but shadow leader Thangam Debbonaire gave her usual vaudevillian turn, worthy of a sellout gig at the London Palladium or Blackpool Grand. It was all there – the dramatically pained expressions, the thespy over-enunciations. “We were told the bill would b-b-b-break the business model … Forty-th-three-e announcements … that then failed to tackle the Channel crossings.” There was even audience participation – at one point, Debonnaire mimed pointing at her ear. “Are you listening?”, she yelled, leaning across at the Tory benches. It was hard not to.
Every week, Debbonaire manages to be simultaneously cheery, sinister and passive-aggressive. imagine a GP’s receptionist doing panto in Broadmoor.
On Wednesday, Rachel Reeves had set up the ultimate open goal for Mordaunt, by condemning “the blokey culture that lets men dominate the top positions” in public life. After savaging the Labour’s Khomeini-esque record on female leaders – “I hope for the Honourable Lady’s sake that changes soon” – Mordaunt moved onto Debbonaire’s main complaint of Channel migrants.
Mordaunt accused the Labour Party of “borrowing from the Gary Lineker playbook”. Which part was she referring to – scoring loads of goals, or infamously soiling himself in front of millions of people? In fact, it was his remarks on migrants.
Labour, she continued, shooting a venomous side-eye at the opposition, “were a party of goalhangers and the occasional left-wing striker hanging around the goalmouth”. Sadly for the football-agnostic among us, Parliament is impossible to follow nowadays without knowledge of the beautiful game.
SNP spokesman Deirdre Brock confessed herself Team Lineker on Channel crossings – and appalled by the PM’s latest ‘stop the boats’ slogan. “I’m sure that the sight of that lectern”, she gasped, “shook him as much as it shook me”. Whether we should trust the insights of a grown adult who claims to hyperventilate at office furniture is another matter.
Mordaunt promised to go easy on Brock, since she had great sympathy with the SNP’s ongoing travails. They’ve had a “rough old time of it … a rough old time”, she said. Then the savaging began in earnest. Given how easily they tee her up each Thursday, you’d be forgiven for thinking the SNP rather enjoy this weekly thrashing.
With International Women’s Day over, International Mansplaining Day could begin. Someone had clearly rattled Pete Wishart’s cot bars that morning, as he demanded a debate about the quality of Mordaunt’s ability as Leader of the Commons.
“I’m always happy to receive feedback” replied Mordaunt, with a single exquisite arch turn of the brow. “I shall do my best to do much, much better next week”. She said this v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y, as if addressing one of the remedial readers of Year Four.
Stephanie Peacock wondered why the Government hadn’t yet appointed an independent anti-slavery commissioner. “Perhaps the Honourable Member could show me some HUMANITY in her answer,” she added. That’ll do it, Stephanie. You can just imagine some Albanian warlord near Tirana calling in the trusted lieutenants of his people-smuggling outfit. “That’s it lads, we’ll have to wind in the operation, the MP for Barnsley East has called for the appointment of an independent commissioner”.
Given the quality of questions posed to the Leader of the House, it’s a testament to her poise and benevolence that she manages to show any humanity at all.