Mrs May couldn’t make PMQs today. She was lunching with royalty up at the Palace. The happy atmosphere of the event may have been affected by territorial anxieties. The Queen’s principal guest, King Felipe VI, reigns over important parts of the Spanish mainland but not the pointy little bit down at the bottom which is full of pubs and red phone boxes. MPs were keen to ask the government to re-assert Britain’s possession of Gibraltar. And some believe that this claim should extend to other historically British regions: Malaga, Torremolinos and Ibiza.
Mrs May’s place was taken by the recently elevated Damian Green. His personality is like his skull. Smooth, well-rounded, essentially featureless. He’s a nice, clever, uninspiring technocrat who described himself today as ‘a moderate person’. This is the key to his promotion. He could never excite the public one way or another and his name rarely features in those lists of possible challengers to the PM. Because he is entirely her creature she refers to him, in private, as ‘a safe pair of handcuffs.’
He was outshone by his Labour opponent Emily Thornberry. In a fetching crimson two-piece suit she looked like this year’s strawberry harvest dressed by Laura Ashley. She was witty and combative at the despatch box, and fun to watch. She’s helped greatly by an unseen attribute: her warm, purring voice which has the qualities prized by commercials directors. What a change from her boss whose mono-drone makes a hair-dryer sound like Beethoven.
Thornberry tried with some success to characterise the government’s Brexit strategy as an accident waiting to happen. But David Davis seemed scarcely bothered and he chuckled amiably throughout her attacks. When she accused him of ‘over-ruling himself’ he crinkled up like a Buddha being tickled.
Sexual politics arrived from an unlikely source. Maria Miller, once the culture secretary, has reinvented herself as a gender warrior. Her soft, inviting features are now guarded by a pair of angry glasses.
She silenced the House with an amazing statistic. ‘Only one in five public statues is of a woman,’ she announced. And truly it is amazing to discover that some feminist academic has found time in her busy schedule to tour the entire national stock of public monuments counting up the bronze skirts and the marble trousers. And did her census include crucifixes? Probably not, even though the tally of semi-naked Jesuses would increase the male majority even further. But there’s a reason for this preponderance of masculine statuary across the UK. We poor men suffer dreadfully from anxiety when we contemplate the billions of female images – tens of billions in fact – that appear on our coins, bank-notes, passports and stamps.
But Ms Miller has good news. The hurt feelings of the Sisters are to be assuaged by the unveiling of a statue in Basingstoke in honour of Jane Austen. But hang on. Ms Miller has got her feminism back to front. Jane Austen? The founder of chick-lit? The patron saint of paternalism? The simpering bourgeois spinster who created a series of weepy Hollywood romances which promote and perpetuate the commodification of the uterus? True feminists will tear down this monument to ovarian enslavement and perform the rites of Sappho in the rubble. And I, for one, will be there to watch.