Donald Macintyre's Sketch: This blessed plot, this realm, this White Van Man...


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There was Mondeo Man and Worcester Woman. But now the battle for White Van Man has been truly joined. This was Stratford-upon-Avon Tory Nadhim Zahawi’s big moment and he seized it joyfully.

“When I see a white van,” he explained to the Commons, “I think of the small business owner who works long hours to put food on the family table.”

But Zahawi’s deconstruction of the vehicle at the Rochester house in Emily Thornberry’s career-sabotaging photographic tweet, was nothing beside that of the flag also on display. “When I see the cross of St George,” Zahawi continued, “I think of the words of (chutzpah, this, but stylish) “my constituent, William Shakespeare: ‘This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.’”

For a second we imagined John of Gaunt as undecided pensioner, Lancaster, wavering between Ukip and the Tories. By now the Tory roars of English nationalistic glee were so unbridled that Zahawi hardly needed to add: “Does my right honourable friend agree that we should not sneer at people who work hard, who are patriotic and who love their country?”

Unsurprisingly, David Cameron agreed “with every word” before commenting on the former shadow Attorney General’s absence from the Commons. In fact, Ms Thornberry was probably lying manacled to a steel bench in some sinister Labour re-education unit, forced to watch a loop of videoed Nigel Farage speeches until she recants even more fully than she has already. Opposition MPs were not giving up the fight, however. The Copeland MP James Reed was almost as stylish in reclaiming the totemic vehicle for Labour. “The first thing I think of when I see a white van is whether or not my father or my brother is driving it.”

To which David Cameron replied – as Tory backbenchers made crude beckoning gestures to Reed to emphasise his point: “If the hon gentleman values people who work hard and want to get on, he ought to cross the floor and come over to the Government benches.”

Can it be long before some enterprising pollster tests the blithe proposition that every white van owner is on the right?

Sadly, Rochester’s new MP, Mark Reckless, didn’t follow Zahawi’s example by saying of his by-election  victory: “In the words of my constituent Charles Dickens: ‘It is a far far better thing that I do than I have ever done…” Instead, he asked a somewhat gnomic question about the trouble-afflicted Medway hospital in his constituency. And shook his head miserably when Cameron declared “I fail to understand... why the hon gentleman decided to join a party that does not believe in the NHS and wants to break it up.”

The one oddity was a rather hangdog, vacant-looking George Osborne sitting beside Cameron. Uncharacteristically, he even failed to brush an unruly lock of hair back into place. Why so distrait, Chancellor? Are next week’s Autumn Statement forecasts really going to be that grim?