Damian Green is not green. He is a seasoned performer, who knows how to smile sweetly while giving his opponent a sharp kick on the shin.

He was standing in at PMQs for Theresa May, his old friend from the Oxford Union, and faced Emily Thornberry, who was standing in for Jeremy Corbyn, her old friend from Islington.

Thornberry, accompanied by a long row of Labour women, tried to embarrass Green by making the somewhat Islingtonian point that Green is not a woman.

If Green had been in an historical mood, he could have adapted the words of Pitt the Elder: “The atrocious crime of being a middle-aged man I shall neither attempt to palliate nor deny.”

But Green chose the less flashy course of remarking that “we of course elect women leaders occasionally”, which produced a roar of applause from the Tory benches.

When Margaret Thatcher supplanted Edward Heath as leader, Green was still at Oxford, yet over 40 years later she can still be trotted out to show that the Conservatives are more modern than Labour.

Perhaps Thornberry would retaliate by announcing to an astonished House that she is taking over from Corbyn?

But she too chose the less flashy course, asking what will happen “if we get no deal at all” on Brexit: “Are ministers just making it up as they’re going along?”

Green remarked that Labour wants to accept any deal rather than no deal, even if Brussels offers “a kind of punishment deal”. He said this was “a terrible way” to go into a negotiation.

“You’re supposed to be building consensus, man,” Thornberry retorted. Again that cruel reference to Green being a man. It is something he has had to live with all his life, striving to live it down by being gentle and modest.

Those qualities cut no ice with Islington woman. But Thornberry was not really getting anywhere. Her questions were much too long, another Islington characteristic. She was no improvement on Corbyn, except that where he would have sounded aggrieved, she sounded good-natured.

Green was unscrupulous enough to sound reasonable. It is the ultimate Oxford weapon. By calming everything down, he began to make Brexit seem perfectly feasible.

If the Tories were ever to need a caretaker, and were prepared to take the mad risk of entrusting their fortunes to a man, they could do a lot worse than Green.