He’s making the most of it before he gets the push. The Speaker chaired one of the longest-ever sessions of PMQs today. It lasted nearly an hour. He opened proceedings with a ceremonial speech welcoming a handful of visitors to the chamber. They thought they’d come to watch parliament but Bercow knew better. They were there to see him. He greeted each of his guests by name and then turned towards the public gallery, his right arm sweeping upwards in a gesture of munificent benediction. Caesar offering peace-terms to the humbled tribes of Gaul could scarcely have looked nobler.
Jeremy Corbyn seized on the latest Brexit wounds. He asked the PM what she’d meant by ‘as little friction as possible’.
‘Was she talking about the EU trade negotiations or the next cabinet meeting?’
Good joke. Just one problem. It was written by somebody else. Corbyn follows Marx in many of his guises but he’s no Groucho. The Tories had more fun laughing at this contrived quip than the Labour ranks.
Maggie Throup accused her local Police and Crime Commissioner of wasting £90,000 on two extra civilian staff. She said the pen-pushers now outnumber the beat-officers in Erewash. The problem is the unhappy phrase, ‘crime commissioner’. It sounds like an official obliged to invent crime not to eliminate it. But with the proliferation of Facebook felonies, this is exactly what the cops seem to be up to. The PCCs only exist to enable governments to dodge the blame and send it ricocheting back to the local authorities.
The same with health. Anne-Marie Trevelyan asked the PM for extra ‘palliative and convalescent care’ in her constituency. May seemed to want to help but she couldn’t, sadly, because the decision has been assigned to an Independent Reconfiguration Panel. (That’s a new one). However the PM was good enough to offer her ‘whole hearted support’ for the campaign. It's barmy. As if the leader of the executive were just some powerless citizen crossing her fingers and signing a desperate petition. Talk about institutionalised hypocrisy.
Owen Paterson returned to the house today, dashingly attired like a war-hero in a neck-brace and a ripped-open shirt. But he hasn’t been drafted into the forces. He’s been in the countryside embracing Mother Nature. He had an argument with the animal kingdom about whether he should be on horseback or in hospital. The result was a spell in a traction-unit but he’s back now and fighting for Brexit. His chosen weapon – the statistic – is usually an uninspiring piece of kit but this one was new. He said that 63 per cent of constituencies represented in the House of Commons voted Leave. Quite a novel way to describe the result. Not 52/48 but 63/37. He advised against disregarding this overwhelming majority. And May re-stated her intention to detach us from every one of the EU’s octopoid suckers.
Mark Pawsey made a strange complaint. An annual parade by the military in Rugby is under threat from overenthusiastic road-closures arranged by the local authority. What’s the problem? Of all our public services, the army should be the least inconvenienced by a blocked highway. They’re the army. They’ve got mortars, they’ve got tanks, they’ve got air-support. And when the smoke clears they’ve got expert sappers to turn the cratered surface into a viable thoroughfare.
Nothing to do with the prime minister.