John Bercow, parliament’s anti-bullying tsar, was strangely reticent at PMQs today. The all-but-speechless Speaker limited himself to a single intervention.
‘Order! Lots of questions to get through. And they must be heard.’
That was it. Twelve brisk words. Usually he spends several minutes bobbing up and down and screeching at MPs about the importance of behaving decorously in the chamber, and ‘conducting themselves in a statesmanlike manner’ – one of his favourite phrases. Allegations of misconduct seem to have curbed his interfering verbosity. What a relief. With no interruptions from the umpire, the session moved fast for once.
The Russian crisis has made the PM look imposingly Churchillian in the last few days. Jeremy Corbyn seems a marginalised figure. He needed to impose himself at once so he led on Stephen Hawking’s death. He decided, perhaps inadvisedly, to use the still-warm genius as a mouthpiece for Labour policy. Mr Corbyn read out this.
‘I have received excellent medical attention in Britain and I believe in universal health care.’
This seemed to suggest that ‘universal healthcare’ is an ideal treasured by Stephen Hawking, and the Labour party, and nobody else.
He recited another Hawking soundbite. ‘There is overwhelming evidence that NHS funding and the numbers of doctors and nurses are inadequate.’
Were the grieving family warned about this act of opportunistic necromancy? Possibly not. Possibly the left regard Hawking as their personal property. Easy to see why. They’ve noticed that it’s safe to admire him without understanding a word he says. A bit like Chomsky.
Several MPs asked about people-trafficking which the PM is committed to solving. Her answers were considered, succinct and practical. And two members brought up gang violence. These drew the opposite response from the PM. Vicky Foxcroft asked for ‘knives and sharp objects’ to be hidden from view in shops. She thinks this will prevent them from being stolen and used by members of the stab-happy community. The PM referred her to the ‘Serious Violence Strategy’ which comes out soon.
Catherine West cited a nasty shoot-out in Harringay which had left a man with a bullet in his head. He was going to the cinema at the time. Thankfully, he survived. But she got quite cross on his behalf about the ‘epidemic of gun crime.’
‘This can’t go on,’ she shouted. ‘It must stop!’
Yes, but how? She suggested a meeting. With the following guest-list: herself (of course), the prime minister (naturally), and ‘community leaders’ (whoever they are.) Mrs May humoured her by pretending that the ‘meeting’ would pacify Harringay forever. But she declined to show up in person.
‘I suggest she meets with the Home Secretary who will be publishing a Serious Violence Strategy ...’
Then came May’s statement about the Salisbury debacle. She generously overlooked the two school-boy errors made by the bungling assassins. First, they used a lethal top-secret poison that failed to be lethal. Second, the lethal top-secret poison led detectives to the crime’s sponsors within a few days. East End hoodlums with sawn-offs would have done a better job.
May is keen to punish Russia and she has many options at her disposal: a ban on Sevruga, a mass-expulsion of Muscovite women from the jewellery department at Harrods, or a combined air-sea attack on Murmansk.
Some MPs feared that she might over-react entirely and appoint Sam Allardyce as Chelsea manager. That would have brought instant, and possibly nuclear, retaliation.