Damian Green as Nero! That was the astonishing suggestion with which Emily Thornberry ended her remarks.
But there is no touch of purple about Green. He is an unshowy man, not given to swagger or treating other people as underlings.
Yet here was Thornberry claiming the Government, represented by Green because Theresa May has gone to the Middle East, is “fiddling away while the rest of the country burns”, which is what Nero is said to have done as Rome burned.
One felt she was not only exaggerating, but knew she was exaggerating. In fact she was telling a joke, which was not what one had expected at all.
She made a delightful change from Jeremy Corbyn, for she seemed much less anxious than him to prove her opponent a villain. Green finds himself in the embarrassing position of being investigated by the Cabinet Office over allegations that pornography was found on his office computer, and that he made advances to a Conservative activist.
Nero did worse than that. But after receiving an assurance from Green that “all ministers should respect and obey the ministerial code”, Thornberry had the decency to uphold the presumption of innocence and refrain from any kind of premature judgment.
She instead repeated a question which Green himself had apparently put 17 years ago to John Prescott about nurses leaving the profession.
On the number of people employed by the NHS, the First Secretary of State had no difficulty defending the Government’s record.
Green proceeded to appeal to another Labour MP “as a reasonable man”, who surely accepted that as people are living longer, the pensionable age has to rise.
This was a more pleasant PMQs than has become the norm, for one glimpsed the pleasure that can be derived from treating one’s opponents as human beings.
Green and his adversary both started by congratulating Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on their engagement, with Thornberry remarking, “That’s one Anglo-American couple who we on this side will be delighted to see holding hands.”
Can it be that the happy couple have spread their beneficent influence even into the Commons chamber?