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The Independent Group is doomed to follow in the SDP’s footsteps

20 February 2019

4:15 PM

20 February 2019

4:15 PM

It’s Day Three of the great insurrection against the tired, stale old politics. Only this morning, a fresh impetus was added to the movement. Chuka Umunna and his six escapologists have now been joined by four more asylum-seekers, one from Labour, three from the Tories. How these moral pioneers can bear to continue as members of our knackered and rotten parliament is unclear. The salary helps perhaps.

The Houdinis made their first joint appearance at PMQs today and they tucked themselves up high on the opposition benches. The Speaker failed to invite any of them to open their gobs. A pity. The house would have hissed like a barbecue in a thunderstorm.

Excited commentators have spoken of politics being reshaped, and of epochs fading and being reborn. But we’ve been here before. The SDP was supposed to herald the end of the two-party system. In fact it heralded the end of the SDP. After seven years the big sulk was over. Human psychology is against the survival of parliamentary hybrids. An MP who can fall out with hundreds of colleagues will have no difficulty starting a row with a new clutch of tantrum-throwers. And the voters are unlikely to support candidates who have nothing in common but disloyalty.

Theresa May didn’t mention the defectors. Nor did Jeremy Corbyn who was greeted with a glacial silence by his own side. This was odd. They never liked Chuka & Chums. Were the refugees being missed all of a sudden?

Corbyn delivered a perfunctory grilling and asked May about the latest fake-talks in Brussels. She responded with pre-scripted replies. It was all very low-key, like a chat over a garden fence. Corbyn felt the need to nudge the PM’s memory. ‘I did write her a very nice letter setting out our views,’ he pootled.

But after Corbyn’s sixth question, May whipped herself into a lady-like frenzy and delivered a furious attack on the Labour leadership.

‘Hamas and Hezbollah? Friends!’ she yelled. ‘Israel and America? Enemies. Hatton a hero, Churchill a villain.’ She invoked the divine names of Attlee and Bevan and claimed that the two saints were ‘spinning in their grave.’

Crikey. Was she about to cross the house and join Chuka?

Her tirade was aimed at the evening news bulletins. Ian Blackford, of the SNP, has begun to copy her example. He no longer puts questions to the PM, nor listens to her answers. He just delivers honking great soundbites which will eventually feature in a promo video to establish himself as Britain’s foremost Tory-basher. Today he gave the sound engineers several earfuls. ‘Westminster is broken!’ he shouted. ‘Scotland deserves better!’ and, ‘Stop this madness!’ He completed the day’s work – all two minutes of it – with a solemn challenge. ‘If you don’t act, Prime Minister, Scotland will.’ The elevated tone and the iteration of the country’s name suggest that these volcanic platitudes are aimed at audiences north of the border.

The Speaker suffered a rare lapse in form today. It’s nearly a decade since he assumed the chair, and he has seldom failed to visit one of his humourless attacks on an individual MP at PMQs. Today he singled out Michael Ellis, a former barrister. ‘Be quiet now and for rest of session,’ warned the Speaker. ‘You didn’t make those kind of harrumphing noises in the courts. And if you did, it’s no wonder you no longer practise there.’  

The Speaker said something funny! At last. He should quit while he’s ahead.


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