Punch & Judy politics is no more as we enter the Hoyle era
4 min read
As the new Speaker took charge of PMQs for the first time, MPs were controlled with a look, or occasionally a wag of the finger, but none of the theatrics of his predecessor, writes Patrick Kidd
The Conservative benches were full of pinkos for the first PMQs of the new parliament. Not philosophically, not to judge by the huge Tory roar that greeted the merest mention of Margaret Thatcher by a Scottish nationalist, but in their choice of outfits. Blue is so 2019.
Andrea Leadsom and Therese Coffey set the lead on the front bench, while splashes of fuschia and flamingo could be seen on shoulders and around necks in all the rows behind. The recently swelled ranks of Team Boris were in the pink, in fashion as well as idiom.
It helps to get you noticed, I suppose, though Dehenna Davison, the first Tory ever to represent Bishop Auckland, later claimed that she had chosen her lurid trouser suit in order to make it easier for her mum, rather than Mr Speaker, to pick her out from the crowd.
She caught Sir Lindsay Hoyle’s eye soon enough, though, and while she wasn’t the first member of the 2019 intake to ask a question of the prime minister (that honour fell to Eastleigh’s Paul Holmes), Ms Davison set down a marker as one to watch with a serious question about a local hospital closure that barely registered on the Mak-Philp Toadying Scale.
The first PMQs of the Hoyle era could not have been more different in tone to the John Bercow Show that had appeared in the Wednesday midday slot for a decade. MPs were controlled with a look, or occasionally a wag of the finger, but none of the theatrics of his predecessor, whose bombastic, easy-to-rile style may have encouraged schoolboy misbehaviour rather than quelled it.
If there were any chuntering from a sedentary position this time, it went on without remark from the Chair and soon hushed itself. There was no post-PMQs dash to the Westminster Boots to buy soothing medicament on the Speaker’s advice. After so many years of Punch and Judy, this show had the raucous atmosphere of indoor bowls.
It also finished promptly with everyone listed on the order paper called, plus a few spares. Sir Lindsay drew stumps at 12.33, having allowed 22 questions plus the leaders’ skirmishes. Ignoring Mr Bercow’s final PMQs, which dragged on for an hour and a quarter, the previous three had seen an average of 26 questions but taken 22 minutes longer.
Michael Fabricant raised this in a point of order afterwards, saying how nice it was to have a Speaker who didn’t like to waste time. Sir Lindsay replied, naturally, that he wasn’t going to waste time answering that.
It helped that Jeremy Corbyn’s heart wasn’t really in it and so his over at Mr Johnson lacked its customary rambling. The Labour leader, who had a nasty sniff, went on the security situation in Iran but turned it into more of an attack on the warmongering Americans. He called the assassination of Qasem Soleimani an “illegal act” (not an unfair point, though it would have been nice if he had been as critical of Russians trying to bump off people in Salisbury pizza joints a couple of years ago) but ignored the prime minister’s invitations to criticise the Iranian general’s “baleful” support of terrorism.
“That man had the blood of British troops on his hands,” said Mr Johnson, his hair looking rather golden (that’s what comes from reading your war briefings in a hammock on Mustique). Mr Corbyn sniffed and suggested that the prime minister wouldn’t dare to criticise President Trump because “he has hitched his wagon to a trade deal with the US”.
“Feeble,” hissed Priti Patel, a few seats along from the PM. “Shame,” muttered a few other Tories, but it was all rather subdued. Rebecca Long Bailey, who like every other contender for her party’s crown had handed in an excuse note for PMQs, may have scored the outgoing leader’s election performance as 10 out of 10, but the net result of such sterling effort is that the Tories can now barely be bothered to heckle him.
Patrick Kidd’s book, The Weak Are A Long Time In Politics, published by Biteback, is out now
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