Lloyd Evans

Lindsay Hoyle is turning into John Bercow

The Speaker should watch the length of his lectures

Lindsay Hoyle is turning into John Bercow
Hoyle in action (Credit: Parliament TV)
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Sir Keir Starmer has a weakness, and the Tories have spotted it. His weakness is Sir Lindsay Hoyle. The Speaker likes to interrupt PMQs when noise in the chamber exceeds a threshold known only to him. During Sir Keir’s cross-examination of Boris today, he broke in three times to deliver pompous mini-sermons that might have been scripted by John Bercow.

‘Our constituents are very interested to hear this,’ said Hoyle, having told Sir Keir to sit down. The rowdies were ordered to ‘please leave quietly’. No one left. That should have told him that a game was afoot. He himself pointed out that the shouts and jibes originate from the benches behind Boris, and it's obvious that gangs of naughty Tories are indulging in tactical sabotage on Wednesday afternoons. Hoyle can’t see this.

Sir Keir resumed his speech. More noise erupted. Hoyle forced the Labour leader to sit down a second time. ‘Tensions are running high,’ he ruled. He pleaded with the hooligans to ‘allow the people out there to hear what is being said on both sides.’

Sir Keir got started again and laid into Boris indignantly.

‘The Prime Minister went into hiding for five days because of these allegations…’

Hoyle cut him short again. And he issued a warning to the Tory benches.

‘The next person who stops me hearing will not be continuing in this debate.’

The catcalls continued as lustily as before. And Hoyle did what? Nothing. He broke his promise. His authority is crumbling. All he cares about is the sound of his own sermons. Vanity has captured him entirely. During his increasingly frequent interjections he complains that ‘our constituents’ want to hear the debate. ‘Our constituents’ presumably means the ones whose lengthy missives thump onto his doormat. Soon, he’ll be reading them out. ‘This week I was contacted by Maureen, who is hard of hearing, and recently lost her praying mantis to hypothermia owing to VAT on fuel bills...’

The Speaker’s headline-hoggery is being used to silence the opposition. Someone from Sir Keir’s team should tell Hoyle to resume his seat.

Sir Keir arrived with a grand stratagem today. The dead-eyed sniper was determined to expose Boris for misleading the house and to force him to resign. On the spot. In front of the nation.

The Labour leader acted like he expected the PM to concede defeat, toss his papers in the air, and head off for the Palace to hand in his seals of office. But Sir Keir fluffed it. Instead of a political assassin we got Sir Hercule Starmer, Labour’s foggy-eyed sleuth, who delivered a labyrinthine textual analysis of Boris’s pre-Christmas statements and highlighted some minuscule inconsistency. He cited the dates and quoted the words, but he lost the house in a tangled knitting-ball of boring detail.

Boris shrugged it off. Next, Sir Keir asked if the PM would publish Sue Gray’s verdict in full. Reaching for his trowel he added lots of rhetorical extras, and quoted a promise made by Boris in December to release the thrilling report in its entirety.

‘Not a summary,’ moaned Sir Keir. ‘Not an edited copy.’

Boris used this extra thinking time to construct a reply. He asked Sir Keir to wait for the investigation to finish and then he gave this careful answer: ’when I receive it, of course, I will do exactly what I said.’

But ‘exactly what I said’ when? He has said many things, on different occasions, about Sue Gray’s magnum opus. But Sir Keir didn’t notice this obvious equivocation by the PM.

In some ways, the Labour leader’s greatest achievement is to convince the world that he’s a hot-shot inquisitor. He’s average, that’s all. If he trimmed the persiflage a bit he might make a decent Speaker.