SPEAKER WATCH:  It's a Question of Survival Now

How he used to suck at the udders of the House when it came to points of order. After taking half a dozen Bercow would coax, nibble, squeeze another lot out. “Any more? Anyone? Just a little one? Who’s got something for me?”

What a difference from today.

Michael Fabricant rattled his teeth with two questions. Why were recruiters Saxton Bampfylde prevented from telling the panel that Carol Mills was under two separate Inquiries in the Australian Senate? And was it the case that Carol Mills wasn’t even originally recommended by these head hunters?

The Speaker had begun the week emolliently promising a full, frank and friendly examination of all these questions. He almost snarled that Fabricant was “unfortunately but predictably wrong on both counts,” then blustered into an ad hominem attack on him for not having been in the chamber on Monday or if he had been he hadn’t asked a question but there it was and it was now time to move on.

In other words, “I am guilty as charged and if I don’t keep moving they’ll have the cuffs on me.”

Chris Pincher got even shorter shrift. He quoted an Andrew Sparrow report of “sources close to you” disparaging clerks, and…

He was shut up, told to sit down and – insultingly, some might think – told to “rise to the level of events.”

He is the rudest Speaker the House has ever had. And I speak as a connoisseur of rudeness. Bercow is in a class of his own.

But this is starting to look like the beginning of play proper.

He has been challenged, he may have lied to the House.

Was Carol Mills on the original long list of Saxton Bampfylde’s recommended candidates, or did John Bercow insist she be included?

Was Saxton Bampfylde prevented from informing the selection panel of the two Senate Inquiries into her department?

Bercow made a non-specific rebuttal. In what way Fabricant was wrong on both counts he didn’t say. He jinked away from an explanation. What on earth can be the reason (innocent face)?

Saxton Bampfylde’s reputation must be taking a pounding. Why don’t they say what happened? Are they afraid the Speaker will sue them?

The Speaker will not sue. The disclosure process would ruin him.

Edward Leigh made a point of order helpful to the Speaker. In a democracy “it is vital to uphold the authority of the Chair.”

That cuts both ways. If the Chair behaves in such a way to lose that authority he should go.

PS: further developments.

1) The meeting of the House of Commons Commission on Monday to try and fix this is now irrelevant. It is now firmly in the hands of the House via a select committee to consider the splitting of the roles into Clerk and CEO.

2) The issue will rumble on for months while the committee considers its evidence.

3) The Speaker will try to get Labour to whip against the Motion to establish the committee. It would go against convention, whipping a vote on House business – but it’s a question of survival now.




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Quote of the Day

Sky’s Faisal Islam on the mood in Parliament at the moment:

“It’s a totally febrile atmosphere here. It’s kind of like Game of Thrones meets House of Cards – and if you chuck in the Labour Party – Laurel and Hardy too.”

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