Here in Babel we had a five-hour gymkhana of babble and blether as anti-Brexit backbenchers considered asserting themselves.
You might as well ask a gaggle of Mediterranean gravy waiters to bring a jumbo jet in to land at Heathrow. Left a bit, right a bit, keep straight – prrrrrrrang.
Prang it they duly did, and the evening ended well for the Government. All but one vote went their way, and the lost one was non-binding.
Tory Remainer Heidi Allen was wearing her sad, pouty face. Justine Greening blinked back tears after some (unsuccessful) pressure from Tory Whips.
Corbyn appeared to be blown off course during his speech by his own backbenchers
She and her fellow Europhiles Antoinette Sandbach and Stephen Crabb just sat on their backsides, glowering as Chief Whip Julian Smith spoke to them. It had been like that much of the day. Voices, voices, raised and infuriated, bellowed as they told each other how to do it.
Peak madness was reached during Jeremy Corbyn’s astoundingly bad speech. I have never known such prolonged tumult or seen an Opposition Leader so lose hold of the House.
Even crazier, Mr Corbyn was blown off-course by his own side. Angela Smith (Lab, Penistone & Stocksbridge) repeatedly tried to intervene on her leader’s speech. He wanted nothing to do with her – she’s a Blairite. Ms Smith held her arms wide like the Angel of the North. Conservative MPs shouted ‘behind you!’ at Mr Corbyn.
Then he said he wanted to stay in a customs union. Theresa May leapt up to inquire what parts of a union he could accept. He hadn’t a clue! He turned to Sir Keir Starmer, his Brexit spokesman, for help but Mrs May spotted that and mocked it.
Not that she herself was much cop when she opened the debate just before 2pm. Stuttery, prosaic, she boasted that the Commons had recently ‘renewed its confidence in Her Majesty’s Government’. A more honest way of saying that might have been: ‘I scraped through a no-confidence vote.’
As she plodded through her speech, up popped the usual suspects, wearisome minnows whose worn routines make any sane onlooker yearn to clang them over the nut with a copper bedpan.
Here, along with later speakers such as legal osh-gosh-gobbler (sorry, ‘senior lawyer’) Joanna Cherry of the SNP, suavely disingenuous Ed Vaizey, and of course the bent goblin Bercow overseeing it all from his discredited Throne, was the so-called cream of our representative politics. And these over-proud jobbernowls want to run our nation’s affairs, turning themselves into an executive.
The Cooper woman wobbled her head and talked to us like a nursery matron giving us potty drill. The Letwin man, all twirly mannerisms as he fnarrred about ‘constitutional process’, fretted about his party’s share of the vote – and then said he would vote with Labour.
Doddery Vince Cable came over all Corporal Jones and spoke of ‘panic’ if Brexit was not diluted. Dominic Grieve was his usual odd mix of oil and vinegar, a French Legion d’Honneur dressing.
Nick Boles (Con, Grantham & Stamford), who had joined with La Cooper to try to delay Brexit, spoke of his ‘conscience’ and insisted he did not wish to prevent Leave. Just as well he wasn’t on oath when he said that.
Amazing that it’s the Eurosceptics – the ones actually trying to honour the referendum vote – who are spoken of as ‘ultras’.
Theresa May addresses the house of Commons Parliament during the debate on Britain’s Brexit European Union Withdrawal Act
Frank Field (Ind, Birkenhead) thought the day should be shortened to prevent Parliament doing itself damage. Too late, Frank. So many of these voices busied themselves in self-promotion, in scorning their foes and in dissing the democratic vote. Hyperbole by the hundredweight.
Yet part of me rejoiced at it, for with each such set-to in our citadel, voters discern ever more clearly the bankruptcy of so much in the stinking parade.
Come the votes, that Labour lad from Sheffield Hallam sauntered round in black T-shirt and jeans. Boris Johnson and David Davis, beside each other, nodded like mafia dons as they heard the defeat of the Cooper-Boles delay gambit. Chief Whip Smith and his deputy, Pincher, conspired in a corner. Someone should paint those two.
And the Brady amendment was passed, significantly, with a heftier majority than the non-binding Spelman effort.
Brexit feels closer, a little safer. That it has even been in doubt is the disgrace.