With her wide eyes and kindly, un-Torylike demeanour, the lookalike pages of magazines have been known to observe that Nicky Morgan bears more than a passing resemblance to a startled barn owl.
Her resting countenance is one that other people tend to wear only when somebody else has unexpectedly jumped out on them from behind a tree.
If you inadvertently met Nicky Morgan’s gaze at one of those Thai silent meditation retreats you might imagine she was trying to inform you you were about to be stung by a wasp.
All of which lent her first session of culture, media and sport questions in the House of Commons since the election a certain sense of deja vu. Deja vu, specifically, for that time a couple of years ago, when Prime Minister’s Questions took place while a lost robin flapped about in the rafters of the chamber.
Because the secretary of state for culture, media and sport was not at the despatch box, where government ministers customarily appear on such occasions. She was, instead, high up in the gallery, not answering questions herself but gazing down upon proceedings in her full strigine splendour.
Indeed, to continue with the metaphor, naturalists now regularly tie GPS tags to migratory birds to better understand the routes they take, from Sussex to the Sahara and back as the seasons change. None has yet been found that has been on a journey quite like Nicky Morgan’s.
Morgan – or Baroness Morgan of Cotes, to give her the full title she acquired two days ago, during her swearing-in ceremony in the House of Lords – stood down at the general election, saying she would “never serve in a Boris Johnson government”. And here she was, barely weeks later, being sworn in as a life peer for the express purpose of serving in a Boris Johnson government. The precise reason for this U-turn of U-turns, the like of which has never quite been seen before, she has not yet taken the opportunity to make expressly clear.
In the meantime, it would be unkind, perhaps even premature, to say she has no shame. Perhaps, having had to go about her daily life for so long with everyone she meets imagining her to be in a state of shock, she simply decided she couldn’t pass up this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to startle the rest of the nation up to her level. Because you only need one look at Nicky “I will never serve in a Boris Johnson government” Morgan serving in a Boris Johnson government and there’s a fair chance you too will live out the rest of your days looking as permanently stunned.
Alternatively, it may even be that she is in fact keeping her word. She promised never to serve in a Boris Johnson government, and what clearer evidence is there of serving in a government than coming to the despatch box of the House of Commons to account for what your department has been doing, which is the one thing she will never have to do.
She never breathed a word about never ob-serving a Boris Johnson government though. She’s entitled to do that. And that’s exactly what she was doing, at significant taxpayer expense.
Of course, it is hard to know what Nicky Morgan should actually be doing. Pundits like me like to despair at the likes of Amber Rudd for quitting and so letting the wrong’uns have their way, and despair in equal measure at the likes of Nicky Morgan and Matt Hancock for carrying on, even though they serve a government almost diametrically opposed to what they believe in.
Still, these are conversations only Nicky Morgan can have, with herself and her bedroom ceiling in the small hours of the morning.
Or alternatively, in her quiet moments, sitting in silence in the galleries of the House of Commons, watching her juniors do her job for her because she’s not allowed to do it.