HENRY DEEDES sees Theresa May on magnificent form in the Commons

She cut a lonely but soignée figure as she entered the chamber yesterday. Immaculately cut red suit. 

Perfect hair. She’d even taken the trouble to co-ordinate her face mask with her chic leopard-skin heels.

Our former prime minister Theresa May. Has there ever been a leader more perfectly encapsulated by the word ‘enigmatic’?

Those hard, angular features presented their usual facade of pent-up emotion. 

What Harley Street therapists would give for just a half-hour detour of what lurks behind those eyes.

As she took her customary place two rows directly behind the despatch box, there was no acknowledgement of those colleagues who gleefully slipped her the dagger in those dying days of her premiership. Not so much as a nod.

When Mrs May rose shortly after midday her presence as an ex-PM prompted the necessary hush around the chamber

What traitors they were. What utter scoundrels.

She was there for a debate on the Government’s proposed changes to the planning system. 

Under them, 300,000 homes a year would be built at the diktat of an algorithm designed to replace the standard method for calculating the number of new properties.

Previous prime ministers rarely bothered themselves with such a niche, dare I say provincial, discussion. 

They’ve preferred to take the first Learjet to Davos and shamelessly fill their boots with corporate cash.

Mrs May, however, is cut from a very different cloth. She has foremost been, and remains, a servant to her constituents.

Indeed, I have never seen her more cross than when former Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable once informed the chamber during PMQs that she would be standing down as an MP at the 2019 election – repeating what turned out to be wholly false local gossip.

The looks she shot doddery Vince could have turned bubbling hot magma into ice. 

When Mrs May rose shortly after midday her presence as an ex-PM prompted the necessary hush around the chamber.

She was full of praise for Bob Seely (Con, Isle of Wight) whose diligence had brought the debate before the House. Terrific man, Seely.

A zany ex-hack whose mad professor demeanour belies a fiendish command of detail. He’s exactly the sort of man you’d want as your local MP.

He had opened the debate by declaring the Government’s new algorithm would have a devastating impact on the North, leading to a drift of jobs towards the South.

Like many Tories, Seely believes it will lead to swathes of developments in leafy shires while failing to address housing shortages in the rest of the country.

The plans would ‘hollow out our cities, urbanise our suburbs and suburbanise the countryside,’ he announced. ‘That is not levelling up; it is concreting out.’

Mrs May did not dilly-dally. ‘The Government need to think again,’ she said. 

‘They need to understand the impact that their proposals will have throughout the country.’

Her argument surmised that the proposals did not guarantee a single extra home being built. 

Mrs May did not dilly-dally. ‘The Government need to think again,’ she said. ‘They need to understand the impact that their proposals will have throughout the country.’ Her argument surmised that the proposals did not guarantee a single extra home being built.

Mrs May did not dilly-dally. ‘The Government need to think again,’ she said. ‘They need to understand the impact that their proposals will have throughout the country.’ Her argument surmised that the proposals did not guarantee a single extra home being built.

She spoke slowly and methodically but her manner shrieked: ‘Listen to what I have to say. I’ve bloody well earned it.’

The algorithm, she said, was ‘ill-conceived’. It would simply lead to a flurry of planning applications rather than any homes actually being constructed.

‘I’d have thought the Government might have abandoned algorithms by now,’ she remarked wryly, a nod to the recent A-levels fiasco. 

Down on the front bench, Housing Minister Chris Pincher sat forwards, never once turning to face his tormentor, taking his necessary medicine like a man.

Our former PM ended with another joke – although she fluffed this one. 

She never was going to give those silver-tongued wits of the after-dinner speaking circuit any sleepless nights.

‘The Government need to think again and come back to this House with a comprehensive proposal for a proper debate,’ she said. ‘

And, she added, fumbling her words, ‘…dare I say it, a meaningful vote.’

It was, of course, the two lost ‘meaningful votes’ on May’s doomed Brexit deal that had signed her death warrant as PM.

Around the chamber, there came generous laughs. Far louder than any when she was leader.

Mrs May remains a mysterious figure. 

Impenetrable and maddening. But on occasions such as this, also oddly magnificent.

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