Sir Keir Starmer entered the Commons at 11.58 to an unusually loud and disciplined cheer from Labour MPs. A minute later, in came Rishi Sunak, to the sound of an even louder but equally confected cheer from his backbenchers.
How vital it seems, after suffering some blow, to demonstrate that one is absolutely fine. At the age of 12, when I managed to fall over and knock myself out, I upset my schoolfellows by insisting, on coming round, that I was absolutely fine, which clearly I wasn’t.
The Prime Minister today gave a convincing impression of being absolutely fine. He was cheerful, animated, undismayed by the local election results, ready to fire off any number of defiant remarks.
Sunak quoted Sir Tony Blair – who had said it was all very well to be “cocky” about the local elections, but “come the general election policy counts” – and remarked of Starmer: “The problem for him is he doesn’t have any.”
In almost his next breath, the PM accused Starmer of breaking “every single promise he was elected on”, and went on: “He’s not just Sir Softy, he’s Sir Flakey too.”
One felt that if Blair, as Leader of the Opposition, had faced such an accumulation of confected insults, he would have worked out a way to turn the joke on Sunak and provoke the Tories into laughing at their leader.
That is not Starmer’s way. What he said in his aggrieved and pious tone was solid enough, but he scored no palpable hit, and no one afterwards was quoting him.
Andrew Bridgen, expelled last month from the Conservative Party, had crossed the floor and with characteristic gracelessness bagged the seat normally occupied by Sir Ed Davey, Leader of the Liberal Democrats.
Davey put as many Lib Dem MPs as he could between himself and this interloper. Bridgen, who announced today that he has joined the Reclaim Party and was watched by its leader, Laurence Fox, from the Gallery, bobbed up and down, but failed to catch the Speaker’s eye.
Jamie Stone (Lib Dem, Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) made an impassioned protest against the Scottish Government’s proposal for Highly Protected Marine Areas, which fishing communities fear will be devastating.
He was heckled by the SNP MPs sitting in front of him, but brushed them aside with well-merited scorn: “I will not be silenced.”