With the arrival of 182 new MPs, two new TV camera angles and a new hierarchy for old party rivals, you might have been forgiven for hoping that the first Prime Minister’s Questions of the new Parliament would herald a new dawn in British politics.
But, like the party manifestos of the election campaign just a few short weeks ago, PMQs promised a lot but delivered very little.
In all honesty, it was never going to be a tough one for David Cameron.
Still puffed up from his election victory, with crowded benches of grateful Tory MPs behind him and bewildered Labour members opposite, no one expected to land a punch on Cameron today.
It was all change on the green leather benches around him, with Tory MPs crowding onto the seats previously occupied by their erstwhile Liberal Democrat colleagues, SNP MPs smirking from the seats where Labour used to sit and the last remaining Liberal Democrats desperately trying to find anywhere to sit at all.
That said, Nick Clegg looked only marginally less miserable squeezed onto his backbench pew than he did when he sat stony-faced next to David Cameron as his deputy for five long years.
Harriet Harman, meanwhile, standing at the despatch box as Labour’s interim leader – for the second time in her career – looked like she wished her pink battle bus would arrive to whisk her away anywhere but here.
Despite rumours that the diminished Labour ranks would now get only four questions, Harman got the usual six, although she would probably have preferred the Liberal Democrats’ allocation of just one question every few weeks – and, frankly, so did everyone else.
Dave’s visit to Chester Zoo was a sketchwriters’ wet dream.
The only animals were dragons behind his shoulder (on the left in the picture above).
The PM stared pensively into muddy waters.
Exclusive to all newspaper sketchwriters tomorrow…
Speaking for the sore losers – that was the most partisan act of chairmanship ever seen in the Commons.
Through the Urgent Question before and the debate itself, Bercow called almost no one who would speak in favour of the Motion.
Twenty-odd Tories of the Speaker’s party swung the vote in his favour.
And now Bercow is the most powerful man in Parliament. When the House reconvenes, there probably won’t even be a cry against his re-eclection (and as Gerald Kaufman is likely to be Father of the House, any cry made will probably go unheard).
He is immoveable now. He will serve the whole of the coming parliament and probably go well into the following one.
What a vengeance he will deliver! It will almost be worth the watching…
The Speaker in the chair just now looks like he’s been awake for a hundred years. He is not taking the news of today’s Motion in the spirit of democracy.
The Government wants to make the re-election of the Speaker a secret vote. It is a very tender subject.
Elections and re-elections of all other chairs is by a secret vote. This is as it should be.
The re-election of the Speaker is the one exception – it was a deal done between the Speaker and Harriet Harman at the end of the last parliament.
What reckless MP would vote against a sitting Speaker in an open ballot?
This Speaker is vengeful, political, and partisan. Anyone voting against him would fear they’d never be called again.
The House is sentimental, conservative and respectful. A sitting Speaker has an enormous power of incumbency. A secret ballot is the only way of fairly holding a Speaker in check.
The fact that Labour is spitting tacks – and the fact they refer to Bercow as “our Speaker” – shows how partisan this issue is.
Labour have put a three-line whip on and are recalling Members from their constituencies. Protecting their Speaker is more important than fighting the election.
Knowing the depth and extent of Bercow’s artistry – is there any way, by some procedural trick that he can stop this Motion being voted on? “There’s nothing in the book to allow it,” says one who knows, “but then, he writes the book.”
Bercow has scheduled three UQs. This will at least give time for Labour MPs to get back from their constituencies.
Speaker Watch will be watching how this plays out during the day.
There behind the PM were the Home Secretary looking sly, the Chancellor looking cruel and the Chief Whip looking even more pleased with himself than usual. Hard to imagine the Tories’ broadening their appeal with any of them.
Cameron was entirely relaxed, amiable, in charge. He flattened Miliband with his tax avoidance answers (no rise in VAT, he promised, I wonder how he’ll get out of that . . . oh! By resigning just before the rise!). He praised certain opposition members, teased them, laughed along with them. The Commons rather warmed to him and his valedictory ways.
Win or lose, Cameron has created and for five years held together an unlikely coalition and presided over an amazing period of job creation.
Gallery witnesses report Mrs Cameron and their daughter were up in the gallery, and little Nancy was punching the air when her father made some crushing sally. She might have felt superior in mental age to the scenes below. At the phrase “Alex Salmond’s poodle” the House went “Woof woof! Woof woof! Woof woof woof!”
The Speaker has been behaving with almost perfect professionalism all this year. He knows his moment of mortal danger is approaching and is palliating his enemies in the House. But Bad Bercow can’t be kept down. He looked around the chamber this afternoon and saw his old enemy Jesse Norman (No. 14 on the order paper) not in his place. So very early, and well out of the running order, he called him. “Jesse Norman!” Nothing. “Jesse NORMAN! Is he not here?” He wasn’t going to take the chance that Norman had been momentarily delayed and would be in shortly.
Norman was a moving spirit of the Governance committee that humiliated Bercow in the fiasco of the new clerk’s appointment. “Got him!” Bercow would have thought.
The rush of applause that greeted Lindsay Hoyle taking the chair for the Budget debate shows that there is a popular contender for the position. A candidate makes the difference. Although Bercow seems to be carrying all before him, it is still possible to hope.
UPDATE: Guido understands that Norman was slightly delayed by a bicycle puncture.