People seem weary of Dominic Raab. Too uncaring, they shudder. Too robotic. Something about those deep set eyes which just leaves them cold.
It is true that his remarks yesterday criticising Black Lives Matter supporters for taking the knee were remarkably charmless.
So too was his Tory leadership campaign last year. Watching his speeches I used to imagine the state of apoplexy of his handlers backstage.
It is true that his remarks yesterday criticising Black Lives Matter supporters for taking the knee were remarkably charmless
‘Right, now let’s see you smile, Dom. Dear God, not like that! You look like you’re trying to bite through sheeted metal…’
But the Foreign Secretary has undergone a transformation in recent weeks. Ever since the Prime Minister returned to work – relieving him of the duties of stand-in – there has been a hitherto unseen joviality about him.
He appears calmer, more at ease in his skin. And jokes! This week I spotted him laughing and joshing around the chamber like a City schmoozer working the lunchtime bar at White’s club.
He appears, dare I say it, like a man enjoying life. It is almost as though those panicked, hare-in-the-headlights weeks he spent in charge of the country have taught him to appreciate his lot a bit more.
His performance at the despatch box yesterday was the best yet.
He had been summoned to answer a question on the Government’s decision this week to fold the Department for International Development (Dfid) into Raab’s Foreign Office.
What a lot of misty-eyed hysteria we heard. Raab tinked them away as if he was having a quick warm up in the practice nets. His humour at times was drier than a tot of Manzanilla sherry.
There was an early smack down for Labour’s development spokesman, Steve Doughty, who attacked the timing of the merger. Mr Doughty is one of those politicians whose anger dial is only ever set to max.
Another half-volley arrived in the shape of Richard Burgon (Lab, Leeds East). Ah, Burgon. A gift to even to the meekest of ministers. He raged against Boris’s record on aid
No sooner had Raab stood up yesterday than Doughty was already shaking his head. Raab suggested he might want to wait until he’d actually begun speaking.
His silkiest put-downs were reserved for the SNP. Chris Law (SNP, Dundee West) claimed that axing Dfid was an ‘unforgivable’ decision made by a ‘myopic, let-them-eat-cake prime minister’.
Raab pulled a face of mock-sincerity: ‘I thank him for that constructive and measured response,’ he replied.
Lisa Cameron (SNP, East Kilbride) was concerned about the Dfid employees in her constituency.
Raab said there would be no redundancies.
‘But isn’t it fantastic to have an SNP member of this House giving value to work the UK does in Scotland? We welcome her support in that regard,’ he added.
As the Government benches rocked with laughter, Cameron shook her head furiously. Skewered.
Raab was buoyant but the Scot Nats weren’t half making it easy for him. They’re a zealous bunch but very good at treading on rakes.
Alyn Smith (SNP, Stirling) came crackling over the video screens, describing the merger as a ‘vanity project’.
Smyth said this while sitting in front of wall covered in laudatory newspaper clippings about himself.
Another half-volley arrived in the shape of Richard Burgon (Lab, Leeds East). Ah, Burgon. A gift to even to the meekest of ministers.
He raged against Boris’s record on aid. ‘Isn’t the brutal truth that the Prime Minister is not interested in poverty reduction either at home or abroad?’ he boomed oafishly.
Raab stared at Burgon as though he were something sticky he’d just found on the underside of his shoe. ‘After all that fluff and bluster, I think a one-word answer: No.’ Next!
Alyn Smith (SNP, Stirling) came crackling over the video screens, describing the merger as a ‘vanity project’. Smyth said this while sitting in front of wall covered in laudatory newspaper clippings about himself
Reedy-voiced Rupa Huq (Lab, Ealing Central and Acton) began talking about aid. Out of nowhere she suddenly started screaming for Dominic Cummings’s resignation.
Raab sighed, as though he’d been confronted by one of those people in Oxford Street carrying ‘End Is Nigh’ placards.
‘I thought we were on the cusp of a serious question there,’ he muttered dismissively.
The main threat to the Foreign Secretary throughout the session had been sat behind him in the shape of ex-Dfid minister Andrew Mitchell (Con, Sutton Coldfield).
Mr Mitchell is very against the axing of his old department. At any moment I expected him to unleash torpedo in his colleague’s direction.
As it was, ‘Thrasher’ simply sat there and seethed quietly, allowing the HMS Raab to remain afloat.