It’s all over, folks. This is absolutely the last time you’ll ever see Theresa May live in concert. Until the next time. May has become a bankrupt rock-star taking her tired old hits out on the road yet again. This week’s futile tour includes Belfast, Dublin and Brussels. Futile because the EU won’t grant any concessions until the dying hours of March 29th. So the PM might as well enjoy the scenery, the food and the wine if there’s any left after Jean-Claude Juncker has been served.
Meanwhile a muted house met in her absence. The increasingly bizarre speaker, John Bercow, introduced May’s replacement, David Lidington, with the following:
‘The Rt Hon gentleman is a notable celebrity not only in Aylesbury but here in this house’.
The Speaker has always enjoyed awarding marks to MPs for their intellectual and forensic powers. But his interest in stardom is new. He repeated the formula when he called Emily Thornberry, standing in for Jeremy Corbyn:
‘The Right Hon. lady is a notable celebrity not only in Islington but here in this house.’
Fame is on Bercow’s mind. Perhaps of the TV variety now that his peerage is in doubt. He might grace our screens as a chef, a jungle inmate, a talent judge or a Strictly pratfaller. Any of these destinies would earn him the universal support of the house.
Emily Thornberry started with a gag based on David Lidington’s status as ‘effectively the deputy prime minister.’
‘That’s the only time you’ll see “effective” and “prime minister” in the same sentence.’
After sifting through the rubble of the Brexit negotiations, she got to her point. An ‘extension’ to Article 50 – which is code for ‘scrap Brexit.’ The first ‘extension’ will elongate itself to eternity because every supplementary extension will be a doddle once the principle is established.
Ian Blackford was in a high old lather today. And he did pretty well. Often he just blinks and beeps ineffectively, like a traffic bollard that wants to be a fire engine. But there was real steel in his rhetoric today.
He was playing the old trick of pretending to oppose a policy that suits him perfectly. A no-deal Brexit – which he claims to disparage – would greatly strengthen the SNP’s claim for another independence referendum. And the closer we get to no deal the more excitable he becomes. He was frothing and hissing like a sprinkler in a hectare of lettuces.
‘While the chaos of the shambolic Brexit negotiations has dominated the headlines,’ he spat, ‘the government has sneaked through a cut in pension credits.’
‘Shame! Shame’, hissed the posse of outraged Nats behind him. ‘Three hundred thousand more pensioners are living in poverty than in 2012.’
He accused the wicked Tories of ‘robbing pensioners.’ ‘They continue to put their hands in the pockets of the poorest in society’
How wonderful that sounds in a Scots accent where ‘poorest’ is indistinguishable from ‘purest.’
The donnish David Lidington took him up on a constitutional point. Pensions are a matter for Holyrood, he said.
This ding-doing continued after the final gong. When PMQs had finished, Ian Blackford made a point of order and stated that Holyrood has no right to introduce ‘new pensions’.Lidington corrected this correction and said Holyrood may ‘top up’ pensions it regards as inadequate.
Why did Blackford keep arguing ‘in the tunnel’ like this? My guess is that he knows Brexit will scatter alliances and reshape politics across the UK. These clips of him grappling tirelessly with Tory ministers will help him in the next stage of his career. Perhaps he’s after the SNP leadership in Scotland.