Theresa May was formidable. On her debut at Prime Minister’s Questions, she dominated the House, and bludgeoned Jeremy Corbyn, by her ruthless willingness to spell out home truths.
To Corbyn, she delivered a short lesson in economics which could have come from the lips of Margaret Thatcher: “He talks about austerity. I call it living within our means.”
She was if anything even more brutal to Tim Farron, the leader of the Liberal Democrats: “My party’s a little bit bigger than his is.”
A well-brought-up Englishman would shrink from saying anything quite so crude, so boastful, so obvious. He would try to think of a wittier way to convey the thought.
The female of the species is more deadly than the male. The new Prime Minister won admiring applause from her benches by being astonishingly unsubtle.
So she attacked Corbyn with a series of remarks about “an unscrupulous boss” who “doesn’t listen to his own workers” and “exploits the rules to further his own career”, before asking with the heaviest emphasis: “Does it remind him of anybody?”
May’s condescending clarity somehow implied that along with all his other troubles, Corbyn is incapable of understanding a word anyone else says.
And that may be true. He is not quick on his feet. For when he challenged her to defend the use by the new Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, in his journalism, of terms such as “piccaninnies” and “part-Kenyan”, she ignored that part of the rather verbose question.
Corbyn could then have said: “I note that the new Prime Minister refuses to defend the new Foreign Secretary’s indefensible use of language.”
But Corbyn just let the subject drop, making one wonder why he had thought it worth raising in the first place.
May dares, when it suits her, to be astoundingly dull. She has various favoured phrases, including her attack on “the privileged few”, of which we shall soon have grown heartily tired.
This column will be seeking ways to defend the few against this bullying. Meanwhile some of them have been consigned to the Conservative backbenches: there was George Osborne, looking a bit self-conscious as he made conversation with Sir Henry Bellingham, and Michael Gove, who seems to have caught the sun.
But that’s at least better than being caught by The Sun. All credit to these gentlemen for turning up and reminding us of the marvellous suddenness with which, in our system, the wheel of fortune can turn.
And there was Boris Johnson on the front bench, looking happy, as well he might. Only Amber Rudd and Philip Hammond sat between him and the Prime Minister.
How triumphant May sounded as she declared in her capacity as the second female Prime Minister: “I’ve long heard the Labour Party asking what the Conservative Party does for women.”
She sounded completely on top of her brief. Labour has just acquired another very good reason to change its leader.