Bercow was determined to get his gloop in first
FOR all this talk of Syria, there is a terrible conflict closer to home in Westminster. I refer to the continuing state of hostilities between the Speaker of the Commons, John Bercow, and Tory backbencher Sir Simon Burns (Chelmsford).
The origins of this quarrel are lost in near-prehistoric mists. Generations of gallery moth have come and gone, completing their blameless life cycles under the cloud of this grievous and damaging broil.
While most MPs suck up to the Speaker, Sir Simon heroically – magnificently, noisily – makes no effort to disguise the fact that he thinks Bercow a frightful little hobgoblin. Parliamentary clerks take shelter when Sir Simon is on his size tens in the Commons, knowing that Mr Bercow will invariably clash with him.
UN observers crouch in distant butts, pale-blue helmets strapped under their chins, fingers in ears, while they await the inevitable eruption of artillery fire. Just such a re- ignition of this terrible feud occurred yesterday.
Speaker Bercow had begun the day as oleaginous as a school careers officer on parents’ day. He made a long, self-regarding statement of congratulations to Britain’s winning Davis Cup team and announced that he himself had been there to see the tennis champs seize their trophy in Belgium on Sunday. It was, since you ask, a freebie. Mr Bercow was ‘a guest of the Lawn Tennis Association’.
Why did Bercow make this long opening statement? The Speaker does not have a recognised function as a complimenter of national games teams.
As ever with this fellow, there may have been lower motives. First, he knows David Cameron will be preparing to praise the Davis Cup team, perhaps on Wednesday at PMQs. Mr Bercow was determined to get his gloop in first. Second, he laid it on with a trowel about how great Andy Murray had been.
Was this done to stroke Scots Nationalist MPs? Fie on me for being so cynical but he may need the Scots Nats to help him survive in the Chair one day.
Having done all this, he also congratulated education minister Nick Gibb on having just married his long-standing boyfriend.
A happy event indeed. But the upshot of this intervention was that a gay wedding was duly expropriated for Mr Bercow’s political benefit.
A few minutes later Sir Simon Burns rose. In the galleries, Hansard reporters donned protective goggles. Frontbenchers slid down their green-leather benches. The House braced itself.
Sir Simon and Mr Bercow are Westminster’s equivalent to a Tom and Jerry cartoon. They clang each other over the head with verbal saucepans, juddering with the impact, the violence terrible enough to be of concern to any modern Mary Whitehouse.
Sir Simon initially asked a perfectly serious question about high speed rail costs.
THAT done, he turned to the Speaker and asked why, given his rash of congratulations, he had not complimented Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin on his (58th) birthday. Ah, well. Mr Bercow has a record of shouting at Mr McLoughlin.
Bercow paused. A look of gaseous distaste came to his face.
He served up a few cool words of birthday wishes to Mr McLoughlin, ending them with a little swipe at Sir Simon for having been long- winded. Sir Simon from his seat: ‘You couldn’t resist it, could you?’
Speaker Bercow: ‘ That’s cos you’re stupid!’ Sir Simon: ‘You’re stupid, too!’ In the House of Lords, ladies man Lord Rennard (Lib Dem) was talking about restaurant tips. One tip for waitresses might be ‘watch out for chaps with wandering hands’.
The Earl of Courtown, for the Government, said a review into tipping rip-offs was under way. Crossbencher Lord Palmer said: ‘Bearing in mind the national living wage, are tipping and service charges not completely outdated?’ Discuss.
We will end with a thought about Mr Bercow. Will he try to get Andy Murray and Co to Speaker’s House, his grace-and-favour mansion, for a celebratory reception?
If the people at 10 Downing Street are not careful, they could find he beats them to it.
Oleaginous: John Bercow