Ber­cow was de­ter­mined to get his gloop in first

Daily Mail - - Front Page -

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

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