The name of Norwich North MP Chloe Smith has been trending on Twitter all day, and for reasons she would rather forget: yesterday she was wheeled out by the Treasury, after a U-turn on fuel duty, to face a grilling by Krishnan Guru-Murthy on Channel 4 News, followed by an appearance on Newsnight before the Inquisition of Pax Jeremiah. The first did not go well. The second was a veritable car crash.
The mysterious disappearance of Bum Nose
All of which demonstrates that the Rt Hon Gideon George Oliver Osborne, heir to the Seventeenth Baronet, is nowhere near making the running in the way that Pa Broon used to be able to do. He is merely reacting to being buffeted by media and pundits alike. His Budget has substantially unravelled. Worst of all, he clearly does not have the backbone to go and explain himself to the media.
And this is where we come to Ms Smith drawing the short straw. There are five MPs on the Treasury team, and she is the most junior. They could also have drawn on the experience of Francis “Mad Frankie” Maude, even though he works out of the Cabinet Office. It’s nothing to do with her gender – an excuse some have fallen back on – but that all the others were somehow unavailable.
If it was Osborne that made the decision, he should have submitted himself to Paxman’s interrogation. Whatever the line of questioning, he’s experienced enough to have given as good as he got. So perhaps he had another of those pesky hair appointments? Then he could have sent Danny Alexander, his Lib Dem deputy, or, yes, Francis Maude, who is at least a combative presence.
All the other MPs on the Treasury team have been in the Commons longer than Ms Smith: Osborne and Mark Hoban from 2001, and Alexander and David Gauke from 2005. Maude was first returned to Parliament in 1983. As the most junior member of the team, Chloe Smith should be there to learn the ropes. Volunteering for the more heavyweight grilling should be for those above her.
Meanwhile, the pundits are veering between having a field day – Daniel Knowles at the Tel comparing her appearance on Newsnight to a scene from The Thick Of It – to kicking Osborne for being a coward, a charge led by “Shagger” Prescott. Michael White at the Guardian concludes that Ms Smith did OK, given that the cabinet apparently didn’t know of Osborne’s U-Turn beforehand.
And when all the dust has settled, the impression that is left behind is not only that Osborne is a coward, but also that he and Young Dave do enjoy dumping on women, whether they are in opposition (Angela Eagle), or backbenchers of inconvenient attitude (Nadine Dorries). Or even others on their own team (Justine Greening also got dumped on before moving to Transport).
The ones with the woman problem aren’t Ms Smith’s defenders, but her bosses.