New year. New parliament. New speaker of the House of Commons. The change was palpable immediately. Former speaker John Bercow found it impossible to say nothing even when he had nothing to say, which was most of the time. His successor Lindsay Hoyle has the contrary virtue of terseness. He got through the session without uttering a word, other than to state the name of each MP as he called them.
Jeremy Corbyn, newly elected member for Tehran South, fretted about the legality of Qassem Soleimani’s assassination.
‘Not our operation,’ said Boris. He noted that Corbyn had failed to condemn any of Soleimani’s military operations, even though ‘that man had the blood of British troops on his hands.’
He added that Corbyn had ‘famously received £10,000’ from Iran’s state TV company.
Corbyn raised his chin with an expression of wounded nobility, as if he’d just discovered mildew on his prize courgettes.
The Labour leader outlined his simplistic analysis of the present crisis. Boris sucks up to Trump, he argued, and is even prepared to endorse illegal killings because he hopes to secure a trade-deal with the US. ‘This prioritises everything [the prime minister] does,’ he said.
In other words, Murder whoever you like, Mr President, as long as we can buy truckloads of your scrummy chlorinated chicken.
Boris had anticipated this:
‘I was waiting for the little green men to come out at the end, about the trade-deal. This is absolute fiction.’
Everyone chuckled at this reference to interplanetary visitors. But the PM showed a regrettable weakness for bombast as he summed up the military position. He came across like an armchair Churchill:
‘Our ships, HMS Defender and Montrose, are in an enhanced state of readiness,’ he said gravely. ‘We have relocated non-essential personnel from Baghdad.’
Let’s hope the crisis abates soon because Field Marshall Johnson doesn’t feel like the genuine article.
Karl Turner spoke on behalf of Steven Gallant, the life-prisoner who helped to neutralise London Bridge terrorist Usman Khan. He asked the PM to join him in congratulating this unlikely hero.
Boris went further than necessary.
‘I’m lost in admiration (for him),’ he said. ‘Obviously it’s not for the government to decide these things but my hope is that his gallantry will be recognised in the proper way.’
Surely this is without precedent in parliamentary history. A prime minister salutes the deeds of a convicted murderer. And what does Boris mean by Gallant’s bravery being ‘recognised in the proper way’? A fortnight’s exemption from bog-cleaning duties? An extra game of ping-pong before lights out?
As MPs started to leave, Michael Fabricant used a point of order to say what everyone else was thinking. He congratulated Speaker Hoyle on having completed the session within the allotted time of 30 minutes. ‘And no one suffered abuse from the Chair,’ he added.
Loud cheers greeted Hoyle as he rose to respond. Would he indulge in a modest sideswipe at his unlamented predecessor?
‘I don’t want to use up the time on that,’ he said.
What a breath of fresh air.