Select committees are rarely generators of much sweetness or light, often being used by MPs as just another opportunity to grandstand. But the performance of Tory MP Ian Liddell-Grainger at the Charity Commission's annual appearance before the Public Administration Select Committee yesterday left even his fellow MPs shocked.
When his turn came, about 45 minutes in, the MP for Bridgwater in Somerset launched into a condemnation of the commission's board for not including anyone from industry. Addressing Dame Suzi Leather, chair of the commission, in his best hectoring tone, he said: "Every one of you, like yourself, are quango queens."
When Leather protested that John Williams - who, incidentally, is stepping down in the New Year - was from a marketing background, and that, besides, she did not appoint the board, Liddell-Grainger responded: "There are two of you from the BBC - that's a pretty bad start. And you - have you ever had a proper job?"
Committee chairman Dr Tony Wright, the Labour MP for Cannock Chase, apologised briefly at the end of Liddell-Grainger's questions, noting that he was a "robust questioner" who "sometimes goes slightly over the top but doesn't mean to be unpleasant".
But at the end of the session, by which time Liddell-Grainger had long gone, Wright changed his tune, offering a profuse apology for his colleague's "excessively unpleasant and personal" manner. "He is a public schoolboy," Wright observed. "I suspect he wanted to get a favourable reference in the Daily Mail, which no doubt he will get."
Sure enough, turn to page 22 of today's Mail and you will see a glowing review by Quentin Letts of Liddell-Grainger's "happy little act of vandalism", complete with sneers about Leather's "trendy haircut and her retro-chic, high-cut shirt collar conveying just a hint of Charlie's Angels. Buttoned-down vocal delivery. Clipped manner. All the warmth of Capt Scott's tent."
"The Mail, as you know, specialise in attacking you in the most personal and offensive way," Wright commiserated with Leather. "Quentin Letts must get some perverse pleasure in life from being offensive to people. We don't mind because that's our job, but when you attack people who can't answer back that is the hallmark of a bully through the ages."
Meanwhile, Liddell-Grainger's fellow Tory, Charles Walker, the MP for Broxbourne, jovially invited Leather to wear Letts's attacks as a badge of honour. "My children read the Mail avidly to see what unpleasant things it is saying about their father," he smiled. "So don't worry about it too much."