If Jeremy Corbyn were a quick-witted man, he would have thought of some graceful remark which closed the “stupid woman” affair before it escalated into an inglorious means of denouncing not only him but the Speaker, John Bercow.
Corbyn could have said: “I am sorry, Mr Speaker. I allowed myself for a moment to think that some of what was being said by members opposite was not particularly intelligent. They used after all to rejoice in the name ‘the stupid party’.
“But I unreservedly agree that no woman in this place should ever be called stupid, or should fear, if she gains election to this House, that she will be called stupid.” The Speaker would surely have been happy to accept something along those lines.
But Corbyn is a stupid man, and scuttled out of the Chamber as soon as PMQs were over.
Sir Patrick McLoughlin rose in his wrath on a point of order, accused the Leader of the Opposition of calling the Prime Minister a stupid woman, and demanded that Corbyn return to the Chamber and apologise.
Bercow deployed the blind eye defence: “I saw no such thing.” Tory members got very cross with him. The Leader of the House, Andrea Leadsom, asked the Speaker why when “you had called me a stupid woman you did not apologise”.
“I dealt with it months ago,” Bercow retorted. “And I am leaving it at that.”
He was not allowed to leave it at that. Anna Soubry piled in, declaring that if one of her male colleagues on the Tory benches had said such a thing, the Speaker “would take action immediately”.
“I would deprecate it unreservedly,” Bercow said, but the Tories were by now very cross with him, and seemed to have forgotten about Corbyn.
They too were being slightly stupid. Dame Margaret Beckett, from the Labour benches, accused them of fomenting an “orchestrated riot” and of trying to shout the Speaker down.
This occasion illustrated the contempt felt for Bercow on the Tory benches. And prosy lectures about good behaviour unfortunately come more easily to him than anything which might mend fences.
The Chamber was filled for an uncomfortably long time with clouds of canting, self-righteous, ludicrously overblown protest. Everyone was tired, and ready to be cross. Some had doubtless engaged, the night before, in dull and deep potations at various Christmas parties.
Many of those who protested loudest will almost certainly have used language at least as offensive in the recent past. But one cannot say such things in Parliament, where debate is only possible because members are obliged to treat each other as honourable.
Ken Clarke, the Father of the House, wisely left the Chamber at an early stage during these exchanges, perceiving that no good could come of them.
Theresa May had mocked Corbyn for “dithering”, and had encouraged her own troops to mock him by crying “oh yes he is” followed by “oh no he isn’t”, after which she added “look behind you – they’re not impressed”.
Many people were slightly embarrassed by this pantomime act. Sensitive souls could be seen lowering their heads and raising their hands to their foreheads.
Leading lip-readers, consulted within minutes, said Corbyn had at around this point said “stupid woman”. Nor did he wear a look of injured innocence.
What a stupid affair. But perhaps at every stage of human existence we need something to get scandalised by, or to claim to be scandalised by. How otherwise would we get any manners?