As William Hague rose to announce next week’s Commons business, was he missing the glamour of the Nato summit? Was he aching to be back as Foreign Secretary, basking in what Wales Online aptly described as a day of “pomp, politics and protests”, followed by a glittering dinner at Cardiff Castle and an obligatory bonding game of golf on Celtic Manor’s fabled Ryder Cup course with – say – the foreign minister of the Kyrgyz Republic?
Apparently not. As he explained, he would anyway be hosting a summit “side meeting” on sexual violence in conflict. But looking less jet-lagged than ever, he clearly enjoys being Leader of the House. Naturally shadow Leader Angela Eagle sought to salt the Tory wounds inflicted by defector Douglas Carswell’s decision to stand as a UKIP by-election candidate. Having seen “a few too many photographs” of the holidaying David Cameron “in Cornwall pretending to be in Baywatch”, she suggested the PM take his next break in “the blue flag, popular family resort of Clacton-on-Sea”.
For Hague, however, this was a welcome cue for a fairly withering put-down of “our former honourable friend”. Had Carswell not said in May that Tory policy on Europe was “100 per cent” right? Hague added: “He may be the only person in British history to leave a political party because he was 100 per cent in agreement with it”. That was “particularly striking”, added Hague, since many MPs “perfectly happily” remaining in their parties “certainly do not agree 100 per cent with their… policies.” This was something Carswell “will want to explain to the voters of Clacton, and it will be very interesting to see how he tries to do so”.
But while Hague is happy with his move, the same cannot be confidently said of Michael Gove. For the second time running the former Education Secretary was absent from the weekly session on Commons business. And there have only been two of them since he became chief whip. Was he sulking? Plotting his next career? Or merely preparing his “charm offensive” to prevent further defections, one which today included a reported lunch with Carswell’s friend and fellow-Europhobe Mark Reckless? Since Hague’s session ended at 11.30 and the lunch was in a nearby Commons dining room, this hardly solves the mystery. And anyway, while Gove has plenty of charm when required, you can’t help feeling that would-be defectors might find Hague’s mockery the more powerful deterrent.