Wednesday 12 July 2017

How did Damian Green's audition for Theresa May's job go?

The Tory First Secretary of State Damian Green stood in for Theresa May at Prime Minister's Questions and put on a very accomplished display of evasion to put Theresa May's charmlessness and inathenticity into perspective.

The press continually describe Green as a loyal Theresa May ally but today's performance popped that particular balloon. The relative competence with which he evaded answering all of the questions, and the confidence with which he wove several ludicrous narratives about how swimmingly everything is going made his performance look a hell of a lot more like a job interview to succeed his hapless boss than a man loyally holding the fort in her absence.

Green is an accomplished liar who has a long track record of lying through his teeth in order to sell the toxic Tory snake oil that is austerity dogma, so it's no real surprise that he put on a competent display of evasion and misrepresentation as he provided a series of tangential and downright misleading non-answers to Emily Thornberry's six questions about the very real threat of a ruinous Tory "no deal" strop away from the Brexit negotiating table.

When he was asked what would happen to the Irish border if Theresa May decides to strop away from the negotiations with nothing, Green responded by claiming that that's not what the outcome the Tories want, as if claiming to not want something to happen is the same as explaining what the consequences would be if it did happen.

Thornberry pressed him again about what a "no deal" strop would mean, and again he evaded answering the question with a load of partisan political bluster as if it's perfectly fine for the Prime Minister to threaten to do something, then not explain what the consequences would be for jobs, the economy, international trade, peace in Northern Ireland, or anything else if she actually does it.

Green's blustering political attack on Labour provided Thornberry with the opportunity to land a glorious counter-punch; accusing him of not getting the Prime Minister's memo because "you're supposed to be building consensus man!".

It was a cracking riposte against the lame duck Tory Prime Minister, and it's absolutely telling that her supposedly loyal ally Damian Green could only sit there and chortle away with the rest of the house at ludicrousness of his absolute laughing stock of a boss.

Thornberry persisted with another question on the "no deal" threat, and instead of answering the question Green resorted to bragging about how the Tories have juked the unemployment statistics through an unprecedented campaign of wage repression, a barbaric sanctions regime that costs more to administer than it saves in reduced benefits, a bonfire of workers' rights, and an absolute explosion in low-pay, low-skill exploitative Zero Hours Contract, fake self-employment, part-time and gig economy jobs since 2010.

Thornberry tried to address the "no deal" threat yet again by bringing up the dreadful Tory inconsistency over whether there is actually a government contingency plan for a "no deal" nuclear Brexit strop, or whether Boris Johnson was right to claim that there is no such "no deal" plan the day before.

Again Green evaded the question in the kind of glib and effortless manner that David Cameron used to manage so easily, but which Theresa May struggles so badly with.

This time Green evaded the question by once again falling back on the juked unemployment figures that only total dipsticks could believe have come about through good economic management, rather than continual Tory attacks on wages, labour rights and working conditions.

Thornberry muddled her words in her final question, but had the good grace to laugh at herself in exactly the way that Theresa May would be incapable of if she'd messed up, and Green responded to the question with a truly fantastical fairy story about how the Brexit negotiations are going swimmingly, and how it's bumbling David Davis who is firmly setting the agenda, rather than the EU27.

We all know that the EU27 forced Davis to collapse his own negotiating stance in the first bloody meeting, and that the belated Tory offer on citizens rights was derided as an absolute insult by all other parties, but Green was enjoying his fantasy, and his moment in the spotlight so much that it didn't seem to matter.

My political sympathies are obviously with Emily Thornberry, but I thought Damian Green did well too under the circumstances (excusing the chaotic mess the country is in after seven years of ruinous Tory mismanagement is hardly an easy job).

Thornberry is quick-witted, engaging, actually funny at times (a rare trait indeed in Westminster), and definitely the kind of person you'd want on your side of a debate rather than arguing against you. She was one of the absolute stars of Theresa May's vanity election, and while the Blairites continue to skulk around in the shadows of the back benches, she's one of the Labour politicians continually building a bigger and better public profile by staying fiercely loyal to the wishes of the party membership.

Not only did Green do his job effectively by doggedly evading every single question without resorting to displays of sneering, grimacing, and uncontrollable fury responses like his lame duck of a boss, he also came across as actually having a bit of a sense of humour, which is not something that can be said of Theresa May (humourless glowering is more her forte), David Cameron (slick, but far too slow-witted to be genuinely funny), Michael Howard (his combination of creepiness and ineptitude was funny, but not deliberately so) or Iain Duncan Smith (about quick-witted as a fence post and about as funny as a terminal cancer diagnosis).

Green must have dramatically improved his odds of succeeding his hapless boss on the strength of this job audition, but given the absolute mess that Cameron and May have created between them, and the near-inevitability of another election before the summer of 2019, it looks like he'd have to make good use of that sense of humour from the opposition benches.

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