John Bercow was, as sportsmen like to say, up for it. Stirred. Psyched. Super-pumped.
For a moment, as he hoisted himself from his padded throne, I thought he was going to start pumping his legs up and down the way footballers do when they’re waiting in the players’ tunnel.
The Speaker had been required to rule on whether MPs could vote on Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal after it had been kiboshed by the Letwin amendment on Saturday.
Forget the fancy-dan robes and the other fripperies that come with the chair, this is the part of the job Bercow loves best. It gives him the opportunity to opine at length to the House, to flex his well-honed procedural expertise.
John Bercow (pictured today) was, as sportsmen like to say, up for it. Stirred. Psyched. Super-pumped
And if the ruling also ends up stuffing the Government in the process, well, that’s all the better.
He rose just after 3.30pm. In his hands was a thick wodge of typed paper. Uh-oh, this was going to be a long one. The motion, he announced, would not be debated today. To do so would be ‘repetitive and disorderly’.
The SNP cackled boisterously. Behind the Speaker’s chair, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell gave his protege Laura Pidcock (Lab, NW Durham) the jumping eyebrows, as if to say ‘bingo!’. At the other end of the chamber, Nick Boles (Con, Grantham and Stamford ) proffered a mighty smirk.
Ordinarily, that should really have been the end of it, but no. The Speaker wished to inform us all how he had arrived at his verdict.
The pages he read from dripped with gushing self-tributes. ‘I have done what I believe to be right’; ‘the judgment I have made is an honourable one’ ; ‘I have made a principled judgment.’
At times, he placed a spare hand on his heart, as if to accentuate sincerity. At others, he swayed it gently through the air like a barrel-chested maestro conducting an orchestra. Andante, yes, that’s right, now mod-er-ato. Bene! Each word was like Puccini to his own ears.
The Speaker had been required to rule on whether MPs could vote on Boris Johnson’s (pictured) Brexit deal after it had been kiboshed by the Letwin amendment on Saturday
We were even treated to impersonations of Tony Benn and Margaret Thatcher’s home secretary Lord Whitelaw. Only when James Cartlidge (Con, South Suffolk) shouted something I couldn’t hear was his flow stymied. Bercow’s lip twitched with indignation. For a moment, I thought he might hop over the benches and wallop Cartlidge one.
Points of order followed. Kevin Brennan (Lab, Cardiff West) accused the Government of ‘playing games with the House’. Sir William Cash (Con, Stone) urged the Speaker to reconsider.
Angela Eagle (Lab, Wallasey) rambled on and on about an ‘overly powerful executive’. Eh? ‘I wish we were!’ hollered Michael Fabricant (Con, Lichfield). Sir Bernard Jenkin (Con, Harwich and N Essex) was called. Bercow, sensing a critical query, suddenly found something to discuss with his clerks.
Sir Bernard observed how remarkable it was how often the Speaker ‘pleased one lot and not the other’ – a way of saying he always sided with Remainers.
He added the public administration committee, which he chairs, would be holding an inquiry into the Speaker. Labour benches erupted in a chorus of Kenneth Williams ‘Oooooooooohs’. A bigger man (in every sense) might have just cited the authority of the chair, but Bercow felt he had to defend himself.
He told Jenkin he had lost count of the urgent questions he’d allowed over the years from the Eurosceptics and he didn’t recall Jenkin complaining then. The Opposition benches murmured sycophantically.
As for any committee inquiry into the Speaker’s role, Bercow shrugged and insisted he was ‘entirely untroubled by it’. Course he isn’t, he’s off in a few days.
Or at least he says he is. Seeing how often the goalposts are moved in this place I’m not putting any money on it.