We are yet to be told what colour skimpies Mr Sunak will wear: HENRY DEEDES on the endless pre-Budget briefings
Simon Clarke was minutes into his first big appearance at the dispatch box and already the new boy of the Treasury had the House bent over double.
How they laughed. There was hootering, hollering and much slapping of knees. Even Mr Speaker rocked back in his chair and clapped his hands.
Such a reception would usually be cause for cheer to a jittery, wet-behind-the-ears minister looking to make his mark.
The problem for Treasury minister Mr Clarke was that the chamber was laughing at him rather than with him.
He was answering an urgent question about all these loose-lipped pre-Budget briefings that have been going on all week.
Simon Clarke was minutes into his first big appearance at the dispatch box and already the new boy of the Treasury had the House bent over double, writes HENRY DEEDES
The Treasury’s been leakier than a busted colander, squirting out details on what to expect today right up to what type of chocolate Rishi Sunak plans to nibble on.
The only surprise is tongue-wagging mandarins are yet to tell us what colour skimpies the Chancellor plans to wear.
Not that Mr Clarke knew about any of this of course. Goodness, no. With the haughty, butter-wouldn’t-melt innocence of a cherub-cheeked princeling, he loftily informed the House: ‘I will not comment on leaks.’
Cue the hysterical eruption. Even some of Clarke’s fellow Tory MPs howled like a pack of crazed coyotes. Poor Clarke. It was hardly his fault. Barely has he had chance to unpack his calculator at the Treasury and here he was covering for the Chancellor.
Some newbies might have been tempted to remind the Chamber of this fact. Instead, he did the only thing he could – stood tall and accepted every rotten cabbage bunged at him.
Incidentally, standing tall is one thing Clarke – at 6ft 7in – does well. Take away the wonkish glasses and he could pass for an NBA superstar.
The Commons erupts with laughter as Treasury minister Simon Clarke tells Desmond Swayne (pictured) he will ‘not comment on leaks’
Mischievous types claim Boris only sent him to the Treasury to make Rishi (5ft 6in) feel even more of a titch.
Clarke’s tone was apologetic without ever issuing an apology. He served up some tosh about communicating with the public about how their money was going to be spent and insisted none of the strictures of the Budget embargo had been broken.
‘That’s a matter of judgment!’ yelled Sir Lindsay Hoyle, pictured below, who has made his furious feelings known about the Whitehall seepage.
The anger spread to Clarke’s own benches. John Redwood (Con, Wokingham) reiterated the need for Budget secrecy.
Labour’s benches welcomed Mr Redwood’s remarks. Not something we see often. Jake Berry (Con, Rossendale) wondered if we could expect to hear anything today which hadn’t already been reported.
Yes, yes, plenty more rabbits out of hats to come, Clarke assured him. ‘Just watch Sky TV tomorrow!’ cried Sir Lindsay. More laughs.
The most combustible intervention came from Angela Eagle (Lab, Wallasey). Usually Ms Eagle speaks with the enthusiasm of a British Rail announcer approaching retirement. Yesterday she was snarling. ‘Contempt!’, she yelled. ‘Ashamed …apologise!’
‘That’s a matter of judgment!’ yelled Sir Lindsay Hoyle, pictured, who has made his furious feelings known about the Whitehall seepage
Clarke clocked a rare moment to make a joke. ‘As a former Treasury Minister herself, I’m sure she would never have engaged in any activity of this kind,’ he said.
Ms Eagle’s humour tends to be quite selective. Rarely does she see much mirth in anything and yesterday was no different. ‘No!’ she screamed. ‘Shameful!’
Some 40 minutes passed before Sir Lindsay eventually allowed Clarke to go on his way. Applicants to American frat houses endure less sadistic initiation ceremonies. Speaking of initiations, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss also made her debut at Foreign Office questions.
Ms Truss, at the risk of sounding like a 1970s promotional film, is a Minister on the Move. Barely a week passes without her appearing in a glossy photo shoot. What’s more, she’s upped her social media game and is debuting a jaunty new haircut.
Yet for all the posturing, she lacks authority. Someone unfamiliar with politics who watched her yesterday would have struggled to identify her as the senior minister in her department.
This is not a problem Priti Patel would ever have. Nor Rishi Sunak for that matter. The latter remains the King in Waiting but let’s see how today’s Budget fares. It feels like it could be a moment.
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