Parliamentary sketch: Jacob Rees-Mogg, John Bercow, and a game of musical chairs

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 25 May 2015 in Comment

Parliamentary sketch: Between arcane tradition and petty squabbles over seating, Westminster is back to doing what it does best

The re-election of the speaker was everything you would expect.

There was pomp, there was ceremony, there was Jacob Rees-Mogg

The MP for North East Somerset is an excellent Tory, given he meets the exact model of what you would expect. He is the sort of Tory a cartoonist would design, a Conservative Frankenstein’s monster, put together from all the best bits of other discarded ones. He even once took his nanny out canvassing.

And the re-election of the Speaker, John Bercow, brought out the best in him. If Westminster could talk, it would talk like Rees-Mogg.

Congratulating Bercow on his re-election, he said: “My right honourable friend the Member for Buckingham has a reputation as a moderniser – a word that I use with some caution. In spite of my prejudices, it is important that this House looks beyond its own confines to the country at large.”

It was a pretty funny speech, though it was unclear if he was deliberately joking in parts. In fact it says a lot about the discipline of the new intake of SNP MPs that no one laughed when he boasted that “the Speaker also has the most phenomenal knowledge of members”.

But if Rees-Mogg is the proto-Tory, a kind of Viceroy’s butler, Cameron is the opposite – a younger, slicker, much more confusing politician. 

Teasing Bercow, the PM said: “I noticed there was some confusion in the media about whether my party had won 330 or 331 seats in the General Election. It seems the media were unsure about whether you are a Conservative. I am sure you find this as baffling as I did.”

How they laughed. But there was a serious point. He continued: “Mr Speaker-Elect, I have said that this will be a one nation Government. I know we have our differences across the House, but I hope this will also be a one nation Parliament.”

It seemed unlikely the huge intake of new SNP MPs would agree.

The party has painted itself as a breath of fresh air, a chance to move Westminster away from its reputation for petty aggression. And so getting down to business, the SNP MPs promptly set about trying to steal an old man’s seat.

The whole thing – revolving around someone sitting in Labour MP Dennis Skinner’s space – escalated quickly. The SNP claimed it was entitled to the seat. Labour claimed the SNP were being provocative. 

Everyone else questioned how any of these people can have jobs at all, let alone become elected representatives.

But then maybe it’s normal. Maybe every meeting just descends into prolonged disputes over seating arrangements. Who knows, maybe Scotland would have become independent long ago if Angus MacNeil had just agreed to get out of Alex Salmond’s favourite chair.

The good news is that reconciliation talks began quickly.

Speaking to The Herald, Pete Wishart said: “We want to sit around the table with Labour to sort this out. They have simply refused to have a meeting with us. There is precedent here for us sitting on those benches.”

The two parties getting around a table might help, but it seems questionable if the solution lies in more sitting. It was sitting that got us here in the first place.

Wishart was then asked if the turf war was childish. Replying from inside a den made out of coats, he said: “Labour are taking our spaces. What are we supposed to do? Go sit at the back and shut up? No way.”

Labour, meanwhile, was unavailable for comment because the shadow cabinet was watching SpongeBob.

So while Labour and the SNP are bogged down in absurd arguments over seats, the Tories have set about righting the many wrongs in British society. At least Cameron’s party is focusing on the big picture.

First, the Tories aim to take on the vested power of the foxes; the chief architects of the global financial crisis. To do this, they will hunt them through the woods with a pack of dogs.

Next, in an attempt to fix the eurozone crisis, they will try to kill some badgers – an animal so nefarious it could be responsible for any number of social ills. They are mysterious animals – in fact we don’t even really know what colour they are.

Admittedly the last time it tried, the Government didn’t actually manage to kill them. Either the Tories are incompetent, or the badgers know something we don’t. Though if they had more sense they would go after the owls, and Labour’s give-away policy in its tracks.

The whole thing is enough to make you wonder whether Osborne has had a bad experience watching Animals of Farthing Wood.

So yes, the re-opening may have been absurd, but at least parliament is back to focusing on the things that matter.


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