You could have carved the atmosphere on Labour’s front bench with a busted teaspoon.
Never had there been such a sullen heap of corpses. Each propped up in silence, alone, awkwardly trapped in pained thought like patients in a dentist’s waiting room.
Dawn Butler (Lab, Brent Central) was particularly sulky. John McDonnell, still that same ashen grey as he was when interviewed in the minutes following last Thursday’s exit poll, masticated furiously on something. Wasps, perhaps? Certainly not humble pie.
You could have carved the atmosphere on Labour’s front bench with a busted teaspoon, writes HENRY DEEDES
As for Jeremy Corbyn, he was a shell. When the down-but-not-yet-out Labour leader eventually stood to speak, there were a few sarcastic cheers from the Government side but from his own benches? Nada.
I half-expected knots of tumbleweed to start cartwheeling through the chamber.
By contrast, an almighty roar greeted Boris Johnson at the dispatch box.
With a whopping great Blue Wall of 365 MPs perched behind him, they issued a cry so thumping that I think the chandeliers started swaying. Whoooomph! Passers-by outside in Whitehall might have wondered if Godzilla had just woken from a deep slumber.
The new House had assembled for the first time and predictably it was party mood on the Government benches. At least for those able to nab a seat. For MPs were packed in tighter than tinned anchovies. Even po-faced Theresa May was breaking out into belly laughs.
As for the Prime Minister, he seemed unable to wipe a satisfied smirk from his face. Cockier than Muhammad Ali mid-shuffle.
As for Jeremy Corbyn, he was a shell. When the down-but-not-yet-out Labour leader eventually stood to speak, there were a few sarcastic cheers from the Government side but from his own benches? Nada, writes HENRY DEEDES
Peering around the chamber, he announced proudly: ‘I mean absolutely no disrespect to those who are no longer with us but I think this Parliament is a vast improvement on its predecessor.’ From his benches, yet more cheers of approval. At last, a party united. No Grieve. No Letwin. No more bloody John Bercow spoiling the stew.
The PM insisted there would be no more dither and delay. It was time to end the deadlock and – to the chorus of his backbenchers – ‘Get. Brexit. Done.’
He pledged to shove his oven-ready Brexit deal in the ‘popty-ping’ by putting it to a vote on Friday. ‘Popty-ping’ is the onomatopoeiac Welsh word for microwave oven. Yes, I had to look it up.
For his part, Corbyn spoke graciously enough, offering congratulations to the Prime Minister, but oooh, was he downbeat.
‘The PM made many, many promises and he must take responsibility to live up to them’, he remarked slightly sourly. Translation: I’m betting he won’t. Corbyn’s voice was so quiet as he whittled through the pages of his speech lickety-spit that it was almost a whisper.
When he sat down, he looked relieved to be done.
The PM insisted there would be no more dither and delay. It was time to end the deadlock and – to the chorus of his backbenchers – ‘Get. Brexit. Done’
First item on the agenda for the day had been the re-election of the Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, who’d only been in the chair two days before the House rose for the election. Black Rod arrived and did a bit of baffling stick-waving before Lisa Nandy (Lab, Wigan) stood to propose Sir Lindsay’s re-appointment.
What began as a treacly speech about her fellow Lancastrian morphed into a naked pitch for her party’s soon-to-be-vacant Labour leadership. As she spoke, I noticed Labour’s front bench remained as stiff as Wookey Hole stalagmites.
Come the moment Sir Lindsay had to be ceremonially dragged to his speech, Nandy was joined by Sir Nigel Evans (Con, Ribble Valley), who was yanking his cuff so hard I thought the new Speaker’s shirt might shred.
Father of the House Sir Peter Bottomley, 75, who had presided over proceedings, rose briefly to observe in his 1950s BBC announcer’s tones that Sir Lindsay might just be most the welcome Speaker to have filled the chair. The House purred in agreement. Worth noting that Hoyle, by now plonked in his leather throne, barely even acknowledged this moment of high flattery. His predecessor, Bercow, would have sat pawing and preening himself with self-adulation.
Boris is right. This Parliament already feels like a vast improvement.