Boris Johnson had gone off on his travels and left Dominic Raab to defend the Government’s reputation.
Labour preferred to attack Johnson’s reputation. Angela Rayner and various backbenchers tried to establish guilt by association with various Russian oligarchs.
Raab told her she “should know better”. Rayner said Lord Lebedev was “a close personal friend of Johnson”, the “son and business partner of a KGB spy”, had given Johnson “thousands of pounds of gifts”, and had also – here we reach the culminating ignominy – plied him with champagne and caviar.
“Sheer nonsense,” Raab retorted, and began a riff of his own about her party’s support at the last general election for “the Member for Islington North”, who wanted to pull out of NATO and sided with Putin after the nerve agent attack in Salisbury.
Rayner saluted the courageous efforts of President Zelensky, but said that in this country we needed “leadership with integrity”, not “this sorry excuse of a Government” which cavorted “with Russian oligarchs in luxury villas”.
Raab retorted that the Government and the nation were showing their “big-hearted spirit” by welcoming Ukrainian refugees, “while she’s in her social media echo chamber”.
The problem with character assassination is that it often only wins the whole-hearted approval of those who already want to see the character in question assassinated.
To others it can seem a bit exaggerated, even a bit unfair. Voters have been known, in the privacy of the polling booth, to try to compensate for that unfairness by putting a cross next to the name of whoever has been attacked in unmeasured terms.
Matt Western (Lab, Warwick and Leamington) observed that you can often tell what people are like “by the company they keep”, and asked: “What first attracted the Prime Minister to the billionaire Russian oligarchs?”
“The Prime Minister is not only a very social individual,” Raab began, and was interrupted by laughter, for the words “very social” sounded like an admission of who knows what.
A hapless phrase, but all this stuff about oligarchs looks like so much displacement activity.