Two men wrestled for a prize which to them is above rubies. Each of them strove to possess the moral high ground.
Rishi Sunak lectured the Leader of the Opposition, told him he “should know better”, and added that if he wanted “an honest debate” he should admit that prison escapes under Labour had been “ten times higher”.
Sir Keir Starmer retorted that the Prime Minister’s reassurances on a great variety of matters were “at odds with the lived experience in the real world”.
Some of us wondered what lived experiences Starmer has recently had, and whether there is such a thing as an unlived experience.
Starmer pointed out that 40,000 people have crossed the Channel in small boats this year and asked: “How can anyone trust him to protect the country?”
Sunak shot back: “The British public can’t trust a word he says.”
For when fighting for the moral high ground, a high moral tone is obligatory. Starmer’s pious accent indicated he was gazing down from a great height at the fallen Tories.
The Prime Minister refused to be gazed down on. He insisted “only the Conservatives are on the side of the hard-working British public”.
Who then is on the side of the lazy British public? Who will defend the leisured classes?
Our politicians protect pensioners, yet deprecate the life of the rentier. As Ferdinand Mount says, we have seen a decline in acceptable idleness. Up on the moral high ground, they work continuously. It must be a dismal place to live.
Stephen Flynn, for the Scots Nats, accused Sunak of spending more money heating his swimming pool “than the total value of the UK state pension”.
Ownership of a swimming pool is incompatible with possession of the moral high ground, for one would never have time to use it.
How would Sunak respond to this wounding allegation? He ignored it, and issued some not very categorical reassurances about the pensions triple lock.
Flynn has the merit of speaking without notes. He remembers what he is going to say.
Many backbenchers lack the courage to do this, and sound duller and wordier as a result. Nor does Starmer liberate himself from his notes and cut loose.
Cutting loose is not the done thing on the moral high ground. In that lofty region, where the air is as thin as the arguments, one must have a script, and stick to it.