John Bercow has just ruled on the whole row about whether or not Jeremy Corbyn mouthed the words ‘stupid woman’ at PMQs today. Bercow said that the lip speakers he had consulted thought Corbyn had said that, but no lip speaker or lip reader could be 100 per cent sure what words were used. He then invited Corbyn to speak. Corbyn said that he didn’t say ‘stupid woman’ but ‘stupid people’ to which the Tory benches shouted ‘rubbish’.
I think Bercow’s opinion was worse for Corbyn than expected. Given that Corbyn is denying he said it, Bercow could hardly say he wasn’t telling the truth. But Bercow’s decision to reference the opinion of the lip speakers was telling, and implied that the Speaker doesn’t think this case is as simple as Jeremy Corbyn’s denial made out.
Bercow then found himself dragged back into the controversy when Vicky Ford accused him of having called her a ‘stupid woman’. Bercow said that he refuted that accusation 100 per cent.
Desmond Swayne and Barry Sheerman both argued that the House really shouldn’t get in to policing what MPs mutter during debates. This argument has a superficial appeal. But there are, obviously, certain comments that even if muttered would be out of line and should be called out.