It’s always exciting to discover a new low in PMQs. We’ve been bumping along the bottom since the New Year and here we had stomach-fluttering slump.
The prodigious noise in the chamber – so chamber reporters said – was mainly that of conversations between people trying to make themselves heard above other conversationalists. Half an opposition bench vacated itself before the end of play. The mood in the House was ‘Who are we and what are we doing here?’ (Answers in the comments.)
The Speaker, still smarting from his humiliation on Cockerell’s documentary, wore his fixed smile, barely tried to control the chamber. The prime minister kept reaching up to yank his tail. He mocked the Speaker’s verbosity. He caricatured his catchphrases. He pleased his Bercow-baiting back bench.
And while this is all very well, it must be said that the Speaker has won everything he needs to win. He is now unbeatable, unmoveable, invulnerable. The Tories have misread the threat, and funked the chance to bring to the floor of the House just before the half-term recess the only Motion that offers a chance of ousting him (to make the Speaker’s re-election a secret vote). He saw them funk it, and feels himself secure.
In a tight parliament, with irreconcilable parties, coalition government may not be a possibility. The powers of the Speaker will multiply. His collusion with Labour – already an established fact – will work against the Tory minority government. He will find a way – because he has a genius for these things – to by-pass the Queen and bring a Labour government to the Treasury benches.
And just about the time he should be resigning, he will preside over the Westminster exodus, to a continental-style, non-confrontational, horseshoe-shaped venue with individual desks and microphones – with his hand on the volume.
Remember, above all else, John Bercow is an artist of power, a grand master in the renaissance workshop tradition. And the Tories are just too cavalier, too amateur to deal with him. Tail-tweaking is an inadequate response.
We can only watch.
Next new depth: Ed Miliband’s achievement must not go unrecorded. A third world war is brewing, the European Union may be about to implode, religious maniacs have established a medieval tyranny just north of the Plain of Megiddo, and the Labour party itself faces an existential threat from the Scots Nats.
So, Miliband spent half his quota of questions on challenging Cameron to a television debate.
There is a rumour that Cameron was going to challenge Miliband to a television debate and has thus been outflanked. If this is the size of it, the opposition leader showed himself to be one pitiful pygmy.
Cameron asked which MPs were going to use the photo-op shots of Miliband on their leaflets. Most of the people who put their hands up were Scots Nats. There will be slaughter over the border and lose or win, Miliband will go down as the leader who destroyed his party.