It is a long time since there has been a Speaker of the House of Commons as intensely disliked by ministers as the incumbent, John Bercow. After years of grumbling and complaining in Parliament’s corridors and cafés, no less a figure than the deputy Chief Whip, Greg Hands, has gone public to vent the business managers’ frustration about Bercow’s practice of allowing Prime Minister’s Questions to carry on past its allotted half hour. “PMQs getting like Old Trafford. 5 minutes extra time in the hope that the Reds can score a late equaliser,” he tweeted.
This is not like the head of steam that built up against the previous Speaker, Michael Martin. The clamour for his resignation began on the back benches and spread upwards, not because they did not like him, but because the MPs’ expenses affair showed him up as being way out of his depth.
The issue with Speaker Bercow is not whether he can hack it. The Tory hierarchy cannot stand him because he was once a right-wing Tory, but they think he is now biased against them and insufferably self-important.
They can complain, but there is nothing else they can do about it, because the Speaker has made clear that he intends to serve another four years or so, and running a candidate against him to try to force him out would be a doomed exercise.
That was revealed in last month’s vote to fill the vacancy for a deputy. The former Health minister, Simon Burns, who publicly called Bercow a “sanctimonious dwarf”, resigned from the Government to compete against him in the election, having apparently failed to grasp that backbench MPs generally like a speaker who will take their side against the Government. Burns came a poor fifth, with 64 votes out of 551 cast.
Supply cost beats demand
It was one of those short exchanges that pass unnoticed because they are off the immediate news agenda, when the implications are such as to boggle the mind. A bearded civil servant named Mark Higson, chief executive of the Government’s Office for Nuclear Development, was explaining to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee what the Department for Energy plans to do with 111,000 kilograms of plutonium stacked up at Sellafield. They are going to build a whole new plant to make use of it, he said, though the value of the fuel it produces will be less than the cost of running and building the plant.
Margaret Hodge, who chairs the committee, was so taken aback by this revelation that the Government is planning a huge construction project which they know will lose money that she asked him to say it again, which he did. “But you still want to build it?” she said. Yes, said Mr Higson, “because it is a route for disposing of plutonium”.
In case you’re wondering whether there are any other possible uses for 111,000kgs of reactor-grade plutonium, it is reckoned that you can make a nuclear bomb with about 5kgs of the stuff. Do the maths.
Not a good career move
There is an inquiry under way in Downing Street into why Abdul Aziz, a Tory councillor from Nelson, Lancashire, who is accused of involvement in a cold-blooded murder in Pakistan, was invited to Downing Street to meet David Cameron. A Labour MP, Tom Blenkinson, tackled the PM about this strange affair and was told: “I am looking carefully into this case and I will write to you.”
The invitation was set up by Andrew Stephenson, the 32-year-old Tory MP for Pendle, a Cameron loyalist. I fear any hopes he may have had of being promoted have just taken a dizzying fall.
Dopiest 999 call ever?
The Scottish police have announced: “This is also 100 per cent genuine… A person dialled us on 999 to report that ‘My friend has just stolen my heroin!’ Seriously.” When you cannot even trust your friends.