One of the great advantages of a good education combined with polite manners is that one can then be extremely rude about people, but the scorn leading Tories have taken to expressing for each other is still rather extraordinary.
When Sir Oliver Letwin explained to the House why he wishes to legislate against a no deal Brexit, he compared Boris Johnson to a man standing on one side of a canyon, shouting across it that if the people on the other side “do not do as he wishes he will throw himself into the abyss”.
Letwin, sitting high to the right of the Speaker in a group including Sir Nicholas Soames, Dominic Grieve, Philip Hammond, Justine Greening, Alistair Burt and Sir Peter Bottomley, added that the rest of us “are to be dragged over the edge” with Johnson.
Jeremy Corbyn spoke next, and could find no image that conveyed such murderous stupidity. He was so dull and diffuse that Letwin, Soames, Grieve and the rest started to look a bit embarrassed at receiving support from so inept an ally.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Leader of the House, rose and declared that “what is proposed today is constitutionally irregular”.
He accused Letwin of “stunning arrogance” for supposing that it was all right to engage in this constitutional irregularity in order to defy the will of the people as expressed in the referendum.
And he said that if MPs have lost faith in the Government, the proper course is to bring in a motion of no confidence, which if passed could make Corbyn Prime Minister.
But the Government’s critics won’t do that: “They are afraid, they are white with fear because they do not want the Right Honourable Gentleman to be in Downing Street.”
So they have instead, Rees-Mogg went on, engaged in “legislative legerdemain” – pronounced “legerdemane” rather than in the French manner – in order “to create a marionette government” and impose “possibly indefinite vassalage” upon this country.
How Rees-Mogg loves being the voice of the people. But soon after ten, when the vote was declared, it was demonstrated that he is not the voice of 21 Tory MPs.
“It’s not a good start, Boris,” someone shouted from the Labour benches.
Johnson rose and said the people must now decide who should go to represent Britain in Brussels at the European Council on October 17th. If the people choose Corbyn, “he will go to Brussels and beg for an extension”.
On the other hand, the Prime Minister declared, “If I go to Brussels I will go for a deal and I believe I will get a deal.”
Corbyn retorted that keen though he is on an election, he wants to get the Bill to avert a no deal Brexit through Parliament first.
Michael Gove, sitting next to Johnson, became extremely animated, gesticulated wildly at Corbyn, and was rebuked by the Speaker: “Yes, we know the theatrics he perfected at the Oxford Union.”
It was indeed a rather Oxford Union line-up on the Conservative front bench, Johnson and Gove both having been elected president of that debating society, an office for which Rees-Mogg, sitting on the other side of the Prime Minister, also ran.
How will these Oxonian tribunes of the people fare in an election? No one yet knows, but to begin the campaign by withdrawing the whip from 21 Tory MPs is a fairly astonishing way of going about things.