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UK Politics

Donald Macintyre's Sketch: A seat at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party

Simon Burns candidly acknowledged that 'the Speaker and I are not the greatest of friends'

Several candidates at the hustings in the contest to fill the Tory vacancy for Deputy Speaker spoke of their great love of Parliament. “I’m passionate about this place, this House of Commons,” declared the favourite, Eleanor Laing. “I want it to matter.” Unfortunate, then that the event was as parochial as an election for a students’ union bar committee and as deranged as the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

Absent, of course, was Speaker John Bercow whom the candidates regard with, let’s say, varying degrees of enthusiasm. David Amess, (who had admitted: “Of course, colleagues, I had thought about the increase in salary, the new office, and I’ll be able to buy a new suit”) announced that “I deplore bullying, intimidation, pomposity and arrogance.”

A cue for his fellow Tory, Michael Fabricant, to declare that he, too, deplored such things, before adding menacingly: “a sort of a related question – how well do you get on with Mr Speaker?” (The more outré the event, the more certain it is that a cameo role will be played by Fabricant.)

This is especially problematic for Simon Burns, who candidly acknowledged there was an “elephant in the room,” the fact that the “Speaker and I are not the greatest of personal friends”.

This is not surprising since Burns has described him as a “stupid, sanctimonious dwarf”. (One MP has described the line-up as “The Dwarf and Seven Snow Whites.”) Burns insisted all this was now “irrelevant,” because only last week Bercow had said that he would play “whatever hand of cards he was dealt”.

Despite having made a bizarre pitch to Labour MPs with the suggestion that if they wanted to “shut me up on abortion” they should vote for her, rank outsider Nadine Dorries had a point in saying she did not believe claims that the electorate was “sophisticated”.

Odds are also closing on Henry Bellingham, who Paul Waugh (the journalist whose deft chairmanship showed him to be the best – though tragically ineligible – candidate) pointed out was descended from the 19th-century assassin of Prime Minister Spencer Perceval. After an hour of this, that seemed as good a reason for picking a candidate as any.