Angela Eagle has landed. Before saying a word, she received a hearty cheer, more for not being Jeremy Corbyn than on her own merits.

But those merits are considerable. Eagle somehow suggested, by her dry, unfussy demeanour as well as by what she said, that she knows exactly what George Osborne’s game is.

He wants to be Prime Minister! This cannot be called a revelation, but for Eagle it was a sore point worth pressing on. Osborne was standing in for David Cameron, who is visiting Poland and Romania.

This was the Chancellor’s audition for the top job. He could show his own backbenchers how much they would enjoy being led by him.

Eagle made it harder for him to do that. She quoted his own backbenchers’ dismay at the feebleness of the demands Cameron is making in the European renegotiation, and then she suggested Osborne “might be concerned about someone a few places down the bench”.

We craned our necks to see who was sitting on the front bench nearer the Speaker’s chair. Oliver Letwin was laughing and blushing, but Eagle couldn’t mean him. Even Letwin does not support a Letwin leadership bid (a point which ought to count in his favour, but won’t).

Eagle gave us a clue: “She knows who she is.” Ah yes, of course. Theresa May. From our position at the back of the press gallery, we could not see her face (for the analysis of facial expressions, television is preferable to gazing at the top of someone’s head).

Our esteemed colleague Brendan Carlin, of the Mail on Sunday, who had a better view, says the Home Secretary had resorted to the unsuccessful expedient of looking at Letwin in order to distract attention from herself. That was why Letwin was blushing.

If all this sounds like a bit of Christmas pantomime, then that’s exactly how its felt, right down to the oooh and aaahs of the audience. Osborne was intelligent and self-possessed, but he was wooden. He couldn’t relax into his new role, and he certainly wasn’t going to try to score off the absent Cameron, whom he went out of his way to praise.

So the Chancellor was established as the continuity candidate for the prime ministership: an awkward thing to be, for it is not exciting, and reduces his rhetorical options. Here was an ugly sister just waiting to be overtaken by some not yet identified Cinderella.

Perhaps by week three of an Eagle leadership we would be fed up. But today there was no doubt she managed to make an Osborne leadership seem less appealing.



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