Eagle strikes: Osborne brought down at PMQs
George Osborne's hopes of replacing David Cameron as Conservative party leader took a setback today after a surprisingly poor performance filling in for David Cameron at prime minister's questions.
The chancellor, who is normally an assured performer in the Commons, was easily bested by Labour's Angela Eagle, standing in for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
The shadow business secretary's witty and barbed attacks on Osborne brought unusually loud cheers and laughter from the Labour benches, whose ranks have been notably subdued since Corbyn took over.
Eagle used questions about the prime minister's "renegotiation tour" of Europe to highlight divisions within the Conservative party as well as mock Osborne's own leadership hopes, accusing him of being "so preoccupied with his own leadership ambitions that he forgot about the day job."
Visibly confident, jocular and at ease, Eagle read out quotes from disgruntled Tory backbenchers including London mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith, in a performance which was reminiscent of the former era of PMQs, before Corbyn was elected.
At one point she appeared to take a gentle dig at her party leader's PMQs performances, by using his tactic of reading out correspondence from the public. Her "letter from Donald" was in fact a quote from the president of the European Council Donald Tusk, warning about Britain's potential exit from the union.
But it was Osborne's performance that was most remarkable today. Whereas Eagle seemed at ease, the chancellor seemed decidedly off-form and uncomfortable, with his facial expressions flitting awkwardly between the look of a particularly smug executive and the look of a rather humiliated schoolboy.
His prepared gag that "most parties are trying to get Momentum. They [Labour] are trying to get rid of it," may have amused a few Tory MPs, but it would have been largely incomprehensible to most members of the public watching at home. Likewise his request for Eagle to "ask some serious questions" made him appear like a frightened mouse desperately asking the looming bird of prey to play nice and fly away.
As things stand George Osborne remains favourite to be the next Conservative leader, with Corbyn's continued problems making most Tory MPs reasonably relaxed about the prospect of Osborne being their frontman.
But Eagle's performance today was a reminder that both Osborne and his party remain vulnerable. If Labour can get its act together, it won't just be the Conservative chancellor who is made to feel uncomfortable in the future.