Two auditions! David Cameron had gone to Japan for the G7, so we got George Osborne standing in for him, and Angela Eagle for Jeremy Corbyn.
She is such an improvement on her Pooterish leader. Eagle sounds as if she is enjoying herself; gazes upon the Conservative Party with wry contempt; has the confidence to discuss subjects like Europe which Corbyn avoids as too difficult.
Osborne had the loyalty not to be an improvement on Cameron. The Chancellor sounded like a stiff man of government, over-prepared with cutting retorts, and over-supported by loyal backbenchers who asked about subjects he could use to score off Labour.
So Maria Caulfield (Con, Lewes) raised Trident, which enabled Osborne to call on Labour to support its renewal.
Eagle batted that away with the words, “We look forward to the vote on Trident and he should get on with it.” She wanted to ask about Google’s taxes. Osborne retorted that she had never once enquired about those when she was a Treasury minister.
That was a fair enough point, but produced with such an evident desire to make life difficult for her that it ended up sounding unnecessarily aggressive, and therefore, paradoxically, somewhat defensive.
Eagle observed that “the party opposite is split right down the middle” on Europe, and tried, in a slightly verbose way, to embarrass Osborne by getting him to agree with various trade unionists about the EU rather than with his own backbenchers.
She by no means routed her opponent, but he remained a bit stiff and ungenerous: characteristics he could not suppress when asked by the Scottish Nationalists about a deportation case.
But Osborne’s most unwearying opponents are on his own benches. Sir William Cash and Bernard Jenkin were among the Tory Eurosceptics who addressed heartfelt and angry inquiries to him.
Osborne is not a master of the soft word that turneth away wrath. He told his colleagues that since they do not agree about Europe, they have agreed to hold a referendum in which the British people will decide the issue.
This is true, but also sounded rather mechanical. Here was no sign that Osborne has mastered the tone which will be needed, in the months and years after the referendum, to soothe wounded feelings and reunite the party.
But if I were a Labour MP, I would long for Eagle to replace Corbyn at the Dispatch Box.