The Speaker continues to use PMQs as a sort of rolling news platform where his millions of fans can catch up on all his latest activities. As a devoted Berc-oholic, I was delighted to learn this afternoon that my hero has made a new friend. Two friends in fact. He delivered the announcement early in the session when he stood up and addressed the chamber with all the solemnity of an archbishop opening a youth detention centre: ‘May I remind the house that we are today visited by an American state senator whom I had the great privilege of meeting earlier with his wife.’ He urged MPs to entertain these important guests with a bravura display of parliamentary repartee. Unfortunately, Jeremy Corbyn asked six questions about buses.
Buses are in crisis, he grumbled. Bus routes are being ‘wiped out’. Fares are soaring. ‘Ridership’ is in steep decline. The problem, he carped, is that profit-gobbling bus monopolies are sucking billions in profits from low-income wage-slaves. And the result is an increase in ‘loneliness’, especially in the countryside. He should be wary of championing the ‘lonely’ bus-user. People who catch a bus in order to widen their social circle usually trigger a mass-evacuation at the next stop.
Corbyn ended his account of the crisis with a superb impersonation of a bitter old lady frustrated by delays to her service. ‘A bus pass,’ he whined brilliantly, ‘is no use when there’s no bus.’ This was such a sublime addition to the art of political comedy that May was forced to react to it. She even tried to look concerned by the Great Bus Crisis of 2018 but after a few minutes she reverted to her default excuse. Not-me-guv. Someone else’s problem. ‘Ask the local authorities,’ she said.
Backbenchers brought up the usual range of issues, many of them international. Bercow’s guests might have been forgiven for thinking they were watching a parliament still in command of half the globe, including the thirteen colonies on America’s eastern seaboard. The prime minister was asked about shootings in Palestine, elections in Zimbabwe, a bomb in Jalalabad, the security risks to Sikhs in south Asia, and America’s internal policies on immigration and abortion. The PM has next to zero influence over these issues and yet she gave solemn and detailed replies, as if she were empress of the world.
Chi Onwurah invited the PM to visit an engineering exhibition in Newcastle and May indicated her willingness to attend. This reminded Bercow that he too has recently favoured that lucky township with a state visit. ‘I’m still fizzing with excitement about the matter five months later,’ he gushed. Some may have found this patronising. But not his fans. We were thrilled that the Speaker had found time in his schedule to be nice to the poor Geordies.
Chuka Umunna brought up a horrific story about a constituent who has survived two separate knife- attacks in south London. The capital is currently experiencing a stabbing epidemic which our witty statisticians call a ‘spike’. London’s mayor is regularly asked why his voters keep ‘shanking’ each other in the streets. And he always blames May. So how would she react when asked the same question? Of course, she blamed London’s mayor. It was the same not-me-guv trick that she used in relation to buses. And therein lies the true purpose of devolution. It’s not to boost the power of the governed but to shrink the accountability of the government.