Starmer has all the pomp of Caesar but with the likability of Bernard Manning ... and worse jokes

Labour leader appears to have made itemised spreadsheets of all his chickens a full calendar year before they might be expected to hatch

As I was leaving the Palace of Westminster, I felt a cold chill pass across me. Winter finally here and making her presence felt? I looked up. No, it was just Peter Mandelson. Labour’s dark Lord was scuttling out of Parliament just as PMQs ended.

Mandelson’s possession of the corpse of the man who was once Keir Starmer continues; not that there was sign of life before the current incubus took up residency. It was also very much in evidence today, as Rishi Sunak seemed to be operating under a curse. The Opposition greeted his arrival with mocking cheers. This proved a suitably ominous beginning. Nothing, absolutely nothing, went well for the PM. To say this was one-sided would be an insult to the Mobius strip.

Somehow Sir Keir’s gags about the Elgin row (“The Prime Minister has lost his marbles!” – ho ho ho) managed to land – despite the LOTO’s cadaver-like delivery. Sunak’s rebuttals, when they came, met with throbbing silence or jeers from the opposition.

Starmer declared a hitherto unsuspected interest in the wage-depressing consequences of mass migration. His new-found confidence has also clearly inoculated him against shame. To ask, nonchalantly, “how’s it going” about attempts to limit immigration as leader of the party that opened the taps, then left them running for a good 13 years, verges on taking the mickey. Yet he managed to deliver these lines with a straight face. Such is the power of the modern Conservative Party.

Inevitably, the Prime Minister’s microphone cut out for his final comeback, just as the Speaker was intervening to tick off opposition MPs. “Britain isn’t listening”, croaked Sunak into the ether. Sometimes these things write themselves. Was this another intervention by Mandy or a mercy-killing by the tech gods?

Throughout, Starmer was on his smuggest, most self-assured form. The problem is that, unlike Mandy’s previous host organism – what Peter Hitchens calls the “Blair Creature” – Starmer lacks any form of even superficial charm. Today he displayed all the pomp of Caesar Augustus but with the likability of Bernard Manning. And even Manning had better jokes.

What stuck out most was the utterly unabashed self-assurance. This was a man who had made itemised spreadsheets of all his chickens a full calendar year before they might be expected to hatch. Based on today’s PMQs, perhaps he is right to do so.

Elsewhere on the Parliamentary estate, the people who actually do run the Home Office were being grilled about their success in returning illegal migrants to their countries of origin; and specifically, the whereabouts of more than 17,000 asylum seekers whose claims had been unsuccessful. (To lose one failed asylum seeker may be regarded as a misfortune, etc etc.)

“Do we actually have any numbers for anything?” asked the select committee chair, as the Flowerpot Men in charge of migration stats dithered when asked a simple question by the Tories’ anthropomorphised XL Bully, Lee Anderson.

No, was clearly the answer. By way of response, the deputy Sir Humphrey seized his papers and silently shuffled through them. Our Rolls-Royce civil service sputters on.