PRIME Minister’s Questions was strangely subdued. Many MPs looked pale, tired, ill.

Maybe it was because we were nearing the end of a long, morally-draining session. Maybe it was because the PM and his opposite number were absent. Certainly, neither stand-in stood out, making us suspect these substitutions are best “for one week only”.

Angela Rayner, Keir Starmer’s stand-in for Labour, said she was “proud to be filling the boots of Lord John Prescott”. Filling them with what?

She explained that the last time a prime minister had missed two question times in a row, the aforementioned socialist lord had been the Labour deputy filling in. On that occasion, Mr P had asked why so many proletarians faced mortgage problems and homelessness.

Angela asked of her opposite number, Oliver Dowden, standing in for PM Rishi Sunak: “Can he tell us, 27 years later, why I’m having to ask the same question?”

It was a good question. Why do they keep repeating themselves? In recent weeks, they could have put AI bots in, and the rhetoric would have been the same.

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Ollie pointed out the PM was at a Nato summit, which would not have been a problem for Angela, whose “old boss wanted to abandon Ukraine, abolish the army and withdraw from Nato”.

This was a reference to the ghost of Corbyn past. And the past was where we remained as the strains of an old Hovis advert struck up, and Ollie donned clogs and flat cap to reminisce: “My parents would not have been able to buy their own home if it were not for Margaret Thatcher.”

There followed a tense exchange, in this case of present with past: “We are paying half of families' energy bills last winter,” said Oliver.

Said Angela: “It’s like the ghost of prime minister past is still here.”

When Angela asked how many children had no permanent address compared to when Labour left office in 2010, oily Ollie said slickly: “We can exchange all these numbers across the dispatch box.” Please don’t. But he did, claiming 1.7 million fewer people were living in absolute poverty. Yeah, but it’s all relative, innit?

Ms Rayner raised the ghost of Prescott past again, recalling that in 1996, he’d asked Michael Heseltine how he could be so complacent. Years of training. You have to go to the right school. Twenty-seven years on, Angela wondered why she was “asking the exact same thing”. Join the club.

Oliver said he knew Labour was planning a reshuffle, “but this audition for Lord Prescott’s old job is getting just a little bit hackneyed”.

When Mhairi Black, definitely not auditioning for SNP Westminster leader, asked when Oliver’s gang would take mortgage rises seriously, the DPM averred that the world and his budgie knew mortgage rises were driven by inflation, which was caused by the Russians and Covid.

Yes, but how to deal with it? Well, said Ollie: “That requires discipline.” Spanking stuff. All this on the back of the PM telling mortgage holders to hold their nerve.

To understand the Tory approach, try seeing inflation as the Zulus, armed with sharp, pointed letters from the bank about mortgage rises, charging the brave British redcoats, whose stiff upper lips rest proudly on the stacked, defensive mealie bags of studied indifference.

All together now: “Men of Hapless, stand ye steady!”

Pete Wishart (SNP) stood up and steadily, dramatically, ungrammatically told the House: “There’s some things you encounter in political life that’s certain to horrify, appal or sicken you.” Goodness, sounds dreadful. What was it? Nazis? The Wagner Group? A BBC presenter? Nope. The expunger of Mickey Mouse.

Explained Pete: “I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite so grotesque as the painting over of Mickey Mouse on a children’s mural as was done by the Home Office in a detention centre in Kent.” They’d taken the Mickey!

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The Home Office defence is that, since everyone coming to the centre was a teenager, it was thought M. Mouse Esq would be embarrassingly uncool.

Nevertheless, Pete wanted Ollie to “look into the deeper recesses of his soul” and condemn such an atrocity.

It was just a mercy that, out of solidarity, Pete hadn’t turned up to the House in big ears, red shorts and yellow shoes, gazing fondly at his Steamboat Willie.

Mr Dowden had other boats on his mind, lecturing Pete that “real compassion” meant “stopping the vile people smuggling trade …condemning women and children to death”. Yes, but painting over Mickey Mouse. It’s too horrible to contemplate.

After which cartoon capers, it only remains for us to say: That’s all, folks!