With Theresa May in the Middle East – stand-ins Damian Green and Emily Thornberry faced each other at Prime Minister’s Questions. How did they do?
The pair clashed over nursing numbers in the NHS – and why so many are quitting. Standard fare, you might think, but with Labour’s Emily Thornberry in typically theatrical form at the despatch box it was far from a standard PMQs.
The shadow foreign secretary kicked off with a risky joke about waving the Cross of St George at an England rugby match – risky because she was sacked by Ed Miliband in 2014 for allegedly sending a “snobby” tweet about a terraced house with three England flags and a white van parked outside.
Will Ms Thornberry see getting away with this joke – despite a glancing jibe from Mr Green – as a sign that she has fully laid that episode to rest?
She then attempted to throw Mr Green off balance with a first question about standards in public life. The First Secretary of State is currently being investigated by the Cabinet Office over allegations about his past behaviour.
“The First Secretary looked rather perturbed by my line of questioning but he doesn’t need to worry I really am not going there,” Ms Thornberry reassured Mr Green. So why bring it up? She didn’t say.
She then hit him with a question about a question he had asked John Prescott 17 years ago – when Prescott was standing in for Tony Blair at PMQs – about nursing numbers.
Mr Green hit back with a flurry of statistics – but got more of a purchase on the issue when Ms Thornberry claimed an A&E department in his own constituency was facing closure. He accused Ms Thornberry of getting her facts wrong.
Ms Thornberry nearly fluffed her finale – stumbling over the words “winter fuel allowance,” eliciting supportive shouts from her Labour colleagues, before recovering to accuse the government of getting its priorities wrong by spending extra on Brexit rather than the NHS.
Mr Green ended with a fairly standard rebuttal, accusing his Labour opposite number of “talking down” the NHS.
What other subjects came up?
Conservative MP Nadine Dorries brought up allegations about Labour MP Tulip Saddiq, who has apologised for comments about a pregnant Channel 4 journalist.
The SNP’s leader at Westminster Iain Blackford asked about arms sales to Saudi Arabia, with the PM travelling to the region.
Another potentially awkward moment for Damian Green as Labour’s John Mann asked about sexual harassment allegations at Westminster.
The SNP’s Tommy Shepherd brought up that perennial favourite – House of Lords reform.