Bit of a rum PMQs today. Jeremy Corbyn, who has always loathed the EU and now pretends to admire it, asked May about Brexit. May, who has always admired the EU and now pretends to loathe it, fobbed him off with glib sound-bites. ‘Take back control of our borders,’ ‘protect workers’ rights,’ and so on. Corbyn asked a long question about the Government’s ‘desired outcome’. He got a four-word answer: ‘A bespoke economic partnership.’
Mr Speaker decided that he should be the star-turn today. Perhaps he sought to wow a posse of French MPs who were witnessing the bun-fight from the gallery. Quelling an early outbreak of shouting, the Speaker got down from his high chair and delivered one his longest ever speeches.
‘Please! The questions and the answers must be heard. I make no apology for repeating myself.’
He asked MPs to remember a ‘report on harassment’ which is being considered in parliament. ‘Let’s try to behave properly in these sessions. Both sides of the house have got to try to wake up to reality.’
Rather dangerous for the Speaker to dabble in politics like this. To equate harassment (which is an offence) with parliamentary heckling (which is democracy) is to suggest that politics itself might be illegal. Dictators relish this sort of reasoning. But he wasn’t finished yet. He went on to claim, as he often does, that ‘the public outside’ had informed him how much they regret the unruliness of PMQs.
‘I don’t care about the press gallery,’ he yelled. ‘People outside disapprove, DISAPPROVE of this sort of behaviour. Stop it!’
Which makes one wonder about the company he keeps. Suckers and sycophants seem to gravitate towards Mr Speaker like wasps around a jam doughnut. Members of the public who claim to ‘disapprove’ of their own viewing habits are as hypocritical as the most puffed-up and self-promoting character in the house. (No prizes for guessing who that is.)
The SNP’s Ian Blackford has devoted his career to keeping bank branches open in rural Scotland. Today he turned his heroic blue eyes overseas, to events in Syria, and in particular to the recent aerial bombardment of eastern Damascus. Matters have reached the point where Mr Blackford can no longer stand idly by. He climbed to his feet and informed the house, in blunt but unflinching phrases, about the horrors he has witnessed. He spoke of civilians targeted, of lost limbs, of relentless bombing, of brave doctors prevented from reaching the wounded. His voice trembled with emotion as he addressed the Prime Minister. ‘Show leadership,’ he urged her, ‘and join me’.
Join him in what? we wondered.
‘In calling for a meeting of the UN Security-Council’. Gasps of admiration greeted this turning-point in history. Not only had Mr Blackford bravely picked up his newspaper this morning and read a whole article about Syria. He had gone further. He had risked life and limb by taking a red bus to parliament and suggesting a meeting of diplomats in New York end the war. Cynics may scoff but we on Team Blackford know that our hero’s willingness to put himself in the firing-line will one day be rewarded with a combat medal on his chest, (attached with plastic pins in case the pointy bits hurt). If our champion keeps up the pressure, the Nobel Peace Prize is surely in the bag. Already we speak of him in whispers as ‘Sir Ian’. But don’t tell him that.