The Sketch: Bercow must play his cards right

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The Independent Online

The Prime Minister declared there were many more small businesses now than this time last year. "Yes," my colleague in the Press Association said, "but last year they were all big businesses." That was better than anything said on the floor of the House, so there it is for the next thousand years of internet historians.

David Cameron, well out of sunshine, spent his time linking our present circumstances to 1979; Labour's last Winter of Discontent. British cabin crew left unburied, the deficit rotting in the street, we all remember that. The unions ran the country and were so powerful they made us drive on the right and wear our underwear outside our clothes. Is that what we want? The polls are predicting no overall majority, so maybe we do.

A hung parliament will bring the Speaker to prominence. That will keep us alert in the gallery, because he's not quite glamorous enough to command consent from his many enemies. That's good for business.

He has a number of personality traits the House doesn't like. The first is that he talks too much. They all want to talk too much, and only the Speaker has no one to tell him to belt up. His interventions have become comically long. His statement yesterday made a three-course meal out of a cupcake.

Andrew Robathan, an Opposition Whip, hinted in the House that Speaker Bercow suffers from "verbal diarrhoea". That was quite daring. But the truth is, it's more like verbal dysentery. You couldn't stop the flow with a cork.

Nor do MPs react well to elaborate ways of talking. We are not French, after all. For the last three or four hundred years the approved manner has been businesslike. Will he change? Who knows? Or in his words: "It is not clear to me that an immediate resolution of the issue is available."

Following this, he's added gameshow host flourishes to his calling of members. After Nicholas Winterton sat down he said something like, "And now for fear of causing domestic tension in the Winterton household we must call Ann Winterton!" To see her, nice!

Every Speaker has that defining moment when his or her authority is challenged. Can he keep order? The noise level is building, I notice, particularly from the Tory right. The other day, Mark Pritchard accused him to his face of taking prompts from a government minister.

That's quite an accusation. And truth to tell, I've seen him sharing a conspiratorial smile with a government whip, at Peter Tapsell's expense.

It's a watching brief, but worth watching.