There was an ominous note in the Speaker’s voice as he delivered a short statement before PMQs. Sir Lindsay Hoyle was clear and self-controlled, but sounded as if he was almost choking with anger.
He is furious with the Government for evading proper parliamentary scrutiny of the Coronavirus regulations, and condemned its resort to secondary legislation as “totally unsatisfactory” and showing “total disregard for the House”.
So although he was unable to accept the Brady amendment, the Commons clerks having warned him that this could lead to “lack of clarity” about what the law actually is, he does expect “the Government to remedy a situation I regard as completely unsatisfactory”.
Sir Lindsay indicated that if remedial action is not taken, he will make the Government’s life hell, by giving “very sympathetic consideration” to applications for Urgent Questions and Emergency Debates. This did not sound like an empty threat.
Boris Johnson came on. His attitude was rather different. He seized the first chance he could find to accuse Sir Keir Starmer of trying “to snipe from the sidelines”.
Now is the time, the Prime Minister declared, “for the nation to come together”. He repeated several times that “if we all pull together” we can surmount the crisis.
“We’re going to continue to put our arms round the people of this country,” he said – a creepy phrase which he has used on numerous occasions, and repeated more than once today.
But he is not going to put his arms round Sir Keir. He instead wishes to indicate that Sir Keir is unreliable, and is detracting from the national togetherness which is required.
Johnson sounds as if he does not believe in the idea of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition. He talks as if any criticism is disloyal. This is not the way to retain the confidence of the House of Commons.
In particular, it is not the way to retain the confidence of Conservatives such as Sir Graham Brady, a parliamentarian of longer and deeper experience than himself.
The Prime Minister is capable of magnanimity, and if only he displayed this quality more often in the House, would store up less trouble for himself.