Parliament, 0. Computer Bugs 1. That was the score at PMQs today after a software glitch turned the debate into a cyber-shambles.
The disaster unfolded as Ian Blackford asked his two questions. The SNP member, wearing a smart three-piece suit, joined the chamber from his sumptuously appointed country seat in the Hebrides. Blackford is known as a champion of the people and today he had a golden opportunity to stir up trouble for Boris. The very fishermen whom the PM had promised to enrich after Brexit are facing ruin because paper-wonks at sea-ports are holding up the transit of fresh fish. A perfect issue for the SNP.
But Blackford ignored the plight of Scottish trawler men and turned instead to the presidential inauguration. He spoke, as always, with one eye on posterity even though posterity had both eyes shut, and its ears plugged for good measure.
‘This afternoon,’ he began, ‘millions around the world will breathe a massive sigh of relief as the democratic removal of Donald Trump gives us all hope that better days are ahead.’
Blackford really ought to shorten his speeches. But he puffed on regardless.
‘Turning the page on the dark chapter of Trump’s presidency isn’t solely the responsibility of president Joe Biden. It is also the responsibility of those in the Tory party including the Prime Minister.’
Hang on. This seemed to imply that the ‘dark chapter’ of Trump had been ended by the Conservatives under Boris. Blackford should proof-read his ramblings before he goes live. The PM shrugged aside this verbal blizzard and Blackford was duly called for a second question. Then it happened. The screen went blank. And Blackford went missing. Nicola Richards, MP for Dudley, appeared.
The Speaker: I somehow think we’ve lost Ian Blackford. We’ll come back to him. Hoots of laughter pealed out across the chamber.
‘Nicola Richards,’ said the Speaker, as she stared at her webcam in puzzled silence.
‘Are you muted?’ he asked.
‘I’m not muted,’ she said. ‘Can you hear me?
‘Can you hear me?’ she said.
‘We can. And the PM’s desperate to hear your question.’
‘Can you hear me?’
This was a nightmare. Somewhere in the unseen reaches of cyberspace, an army of nano-goblins were rampaging through parliament’s software, frazzling micro-chips, severing wires and ripping semi-conductors to pieces. And it got worse. A lot worse. Ed Davey appeared.
The Speaker asked him to say his bit and Sir Ed offered his personal congratulations to the Biden/Harris team, (like they even know who he is).
Once Sir Ed had emptied his lungs of air, and his brain of thoughts, the Speaker had to backtrack to let Ian Blackford and Nicola Richards have their say as well. Another MP had a more old-fashioned problem. His phone started to chirp and sing as he began his question.
BRR BRR, BRR BRR.
‘Can the Prime Minister tell me,’ …
BRR BRR, BRR BRR.
It wouldn’t stop, and he couldn’t reach the handset to shut the nuisance up. Nor could the Speaker cut the line off. Clearly, this has to change. At present, an MP can terminate his or her connection to the chamber but the Speaker has no reciprocal capacity. What he needs is a big red button on the arm of his chair which he can slam down whenever a windbag needs to be cut off, mid-waffle.
Some may think that this won’t be necessary because MPs will soon be back in the chamber at full muster. Or will they? Tory backbencher Neil O’Brien asked the PM about fast-tracking new vaccines to treat fresh variants of the ever-mutating virus. It will happen, was the PM’s answer.
That’s shocking news. It means that injecting 65 million of us with one jab, and then a second for safety, may not suffice. The shot-in-the-arm programme is only just starting. Vaxes and lockdowns could be here forever. And the loathed tiers are going to oscillate like the seasons, in perpetuity. Perhaps that’s why there are four of them.