Donald Macintyre's Sketch: The cheek, the gall, the nerve: a sharp-tongued star is born

 

Don’t mess with this woman! A new, if not yet quite star, at least phenomenon, is born. Nicky Morgan, promoted to the Treasury in the last reshuffle, today tackled the Commons, or at least those on the Opposition benches, like a bossy schoolmistress bringing a delinquent class to heel.

Shadow Chief Secretary Chris Leslie had “a cheek” to talk about putting money in people’s pockets and had clearly “learned nothing”. She found it “unbelievable” that Tom Blenkinsop had “the gall” to point out that women’s wages had dropped £12 per week in his constituency. Had he not absorbed his Labour colleague Liam Byrne’s admission that those on median incomes had been “feeling the strain” since 2004? It was a “real nerve” to say, as Russell Brown had, that the lowest paid had been “written off” by Chief Secretary Danny Alexander, who would “never say such a thing”.

So Amazonian was Ms Morgan that it was almost a relief to return to the familiar barbs directed at Ed Balls by Alexander, standing in for George Osborne who was, Balls said: “In Brussels, where the Government are taking legal action to stop a cap on bank bonuses. How out of touch can you get?” Ducking his challenge on whether the Lib Dems were happy with this, Alexander accused Balls of having “appointed a new special adviser on hand gestures: Greg Dyke”. Expanding on this ultra-clunky reference to the FA chairman’s finger-across-the-throat response to England’s World Cup draw, he added: “That is the gesture the shadow Chancellor’s colleagues are making every time they hear him in this House of Commons.”

In fact Balls – who didn’t need to be there since Osborne wasn’t – had clearly decided on a rapid, Nicky Lauda-like return to the track after his Autumn Statement car crash, pointing out that Labour had been vindicated by the Institute of Fiscal Studies’ prediction that “real median household incomes will be substantially lower in 2015-16 than 2009-10”.

Meanwhile, dragged by Labour’s Rachel Reeves to the Commons to do penance yet again for the Universal Credit IT shambles, Iain Duncan Smith overdid the jargon, as he usually does under pressure, to the extent that he unwisely provoked Labour jeers by referring to those on benefits as “the stock”. “Well that is the term used,” he said defensively.

Tory David Ruffley gallantly assured him that he had “the wholehearted support of those on the government benches”.

This would have been a more powerful point had there been more than two dozen present at the time.

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