Extraordinary scenes in the House of Commons today. Tory MPs believed that Jeremy Corbyn muttered ‘stupid woman’ in Theresa May’s direction as she mocked him over his failure to call a confidence vote. (Corbyn’s spokesman has subsequently said that Corbyn said ‘stupid people’).
During the session, Paul Scully, a Tory vice-chairman, asked about the issue obliquely. But then at the end of the session, Patrick McLoughlin—the former chief whip—bellowed for a point of order. Bercow initially refused to take it as Corbyn left the chamber. But in the face of huge anger from the Tory benches, Bercow relented.
Bercow’s initial response was that neither he nor the clerks had seen the incident, so he couldn’t be expected to rule on it. But he said that if someone had used that language, they should apologise. Andrea Leadsom then rose to ask why Bercow had not apologised to her for allegedly calling her a ‘stupid woman’. Bercow was clearly taken aback by the question, which was devastating, and his response was in particularly pompous language.
By this point, the Tory benches were furious. Anna Soubry then made a point of order saying that if this incident involved a Tory, Bercow would want to rule on it—and offered to show him the footage on a phone. Bercow then said he would examine the evidence and rule on it; he later said that he would do this after the two statements.
Margaret Beckett, one of Bercow’s most reliable defenders, then accused the Tories of carrying out an ‘organised riot’ in the Chamber.
With Corbyn having denied—via his spokesman—that he said it, Bercow finds himself in a difficult position as he has committed to looking at the evidence and ruling on the incident.
But, perhaps, the most striking thing about the incident was how the Tories rallied together. From Anna Soubry to Mark Francois, they were united in anger at Corbyn and Bercow. It does suggest that Tory tribal feeling still exists, and this is what May will be hoping to tap into as she tries to pass her Brexit deal.