More trouble for the Speaker today. It’s becoming clear that John Bercow is not just unpopular but unlucky as well. He skipped PMQs to attend the funeral of his predecessor, Michael Martin, who was ousted by a mutiny in 2009. Newer members, perhaps believing that insurrection is the correct way to eject an unwanted speaker, may be plotting Bercow’s dethronement already. Unluckier still, he’s just earned a new tabloid nickname, ‘Bully Bercow’, over allegations of “explosive and intemperate” behaviour toward staff, which he denies and are now under investigation. The phrase has a certain felicitous musicality – like Billy Bunter – that may soften the sting of its literal meaning, but whatever happens to him the tag will stick forever. When elected he promised to serve no more than nine years in the chair, and this self-imposed deadline expires within a few weeks. Will he withdraw quietly or try to fight off his enemies?
It didn’t help that his replacement today, Lindsay Hoyle, delivered a masterclass in dextrous chairmanship. At the start Hoyle asked members for ‘succinct’ questions and for ‘pithy’ replies. His silent-but-deadly management of the session honoured both virtues. In fact he handled his responsibilities with such authority and expertise that the debate seemed to be running of its own accord without human oversight. At the end, blushing faintly, Hoyle allowed himself the tiniest lip-curl of satisfaction as the house delivered a spontaneous ovation.
‘More!’ they yelled. ‘More! More! More!’
‘Bully’ Bercow’s death-knell.
The Tories were jubilant today, as if they’d just won back the majority that May casually tossed in the dustbin last year. Bizarrely, the morose Labour benches assented to the Tories’ upbeat mood. Not a single Labour MP mentioned that their party had gained council seats last week at the expense of the Conservatives. Quite worrying for Labour’s grassroots. If your opponents treat a loss as a victory that’s a misfortune. But if you do the same, your misfortune becomes your destiny. Corbyn radiated despair. The gumless old dog never had much bite in him, but now his bark is failing too. He couldn’t even be bothered to deliver his customary evil-Tory rant at the end of his six questions. Jon Lansman, Momentum’s founder, recently reminded everyone that the Labour leader will be almost 73 – well into his rose-pruning years – by the time of the next election. Corbyn has led his party up the garden path. Next stop, the shed.
The SNP’s Ian Blackford stood up to deliver a sob-story of global proportions. He said that he awoke this morning to find himself in ‘a far more dangerous world’ than yesterday. He was panting and fretting about Donald Trump’s repudiation of the US-Iran nuclear deal. Blackford seems unaware that Iran existed before he found it on the map 24 hours ago. The idea that this vast, populous, oil-rich state can’t build a nuclear weapon is ridiculous. America rustled one up in a few years during World War II. The reason Iran doesn’t have the bomb is that it doesn’t want it. Those shrewd mullahs, in their stylish floor-length ball-gowns, have worked out that they can gain more by threatening to acquire the bomb than they can by threatening to use it.
Blackford described America’s policy as ‘insanity’ and he used this inflammatory language with obvious diplomatic purpose. He wants to wangle himself an interview with a US network. This became clear when he complained that Boris had made a statement on Fox News. Blackford didn’t care what the Foreign Secretary had said, only that he’d got there before him.