Simon Carr: Whatever you do, don't speak out of turn on the Speaker's time

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The Independent Online

Always a pleasure to see Ken Clarke at the despatch box, still looking magnificently lunchable. Getting on a bit, face like a stop light, but punching his weight.

There on the frontbench, Ed Balls. He has a plan to make Labour "the party of law and order". It's a dividing line, you see. So he sat mate-ily next to Sadiq Khan, EDM's campaign manager, cosying up to him. Sadiq, the shadow Justice minister, used the line about the party of law and order. Balls patted him on the arm as he walked out with David Miliband, and to cosy up to him as well. It could be one of those Arabic friendships based on having an enemy (their leader) in common.

Ken was trundling through his statement saying, in sum, that he was after a bit more rehabilitation and a few more prisoners out. The action off the ball was livelier.

Sadiq's answer started long. Then it went on, before going on even further – so much so the Speaker interrupted him. Stopped him, a Labour ministerial. Told him he'd gone on far too long – and he could only finish with a single sentence. Sadiq accepted the reproof and gave us his next sentence, then another, and another – and ended up going on with his speech as before to growing Tory unrest.

The Speaker had slapped down Simon Burns in the previous session, you see. Told him he was repetitive and long-winded and made him sit down. Burns is a career criminal as far as the Speaker is concerned and beyond rehab. He is a Tory, for one thing, and the Speaker doesn't like Tories. He is also a pal of the government chief whip and that is unforgiveable.

Readers who take an interest in these matters should look at the footage on YouTube of an extraordinary spat between Patrick McLoughlin and the Speaker.

Bercow had called formally for a cry of Object to a motion. He knew it should be forthcoming and, when it wasn't, he made three "Come on" gestures with his hand to get the response as required.

McLoughlin made a scoffing remark about the Speaker doing the job for the opposition and the Speaker's face instantly darkened from late-night geniality to barking fury. He hauled the chief whip back in, as if he had a lead on him. "He has no business scurrying out of the chamber!"

The whip can be heard saying: "We saw you, we all saw you!" And the Speaker, like a top dog barking over him, "Order! Order!"

It has to be recorded the Speaker won this battle of wills. But for followers of the opera, it's not a straightforward win when you humiliate the government's chief whip.