What were all those Lib Dems doing in, we wondered? It was the Lisbon treaty debate on the effectiveness of EU institutions. Of course we could hardly breathe in the press gallery but we didn't understand this concentration of Liberals.
The Deputy Speaker Michael Lord was in the chair. Fine fellow, incidentally. The 10-Minute Rule Motion finished. An announcement I couldn't hear. "Point of order!" came the cry. Ed Davey was complaining their amendment to debate Britain's membership of the EU hadn't been selected. Lord dealt with it. Mr Speaker's selection of amendments is beyond argument. "Point of order!" The cry again. And again. "Now I really think we should get on," Lord said, indicating he would take no more points of order on the subject. "Mr Jim Murphy!"
"On a separate point of order!" It was Simon Hughes. No one groaned; that was new. "I have asked how we can get amendments selected," he began. They'd been to see the clerks. They'd redrafted under their direction. The amendment was in order. What did they have to do to get selected?
It was "Mr Speaker's selection". Lord used this phrase four times in all. It infuriated them.
Davey wasn't giving up: "It is an outrage to the House!" he said, causing an intake of breath. That is a direct challenge to the chair. I'm not sure how it would have turned out had the Speaker been there in person. "If the Hon member persists in arguing with Mr Speaker's selection I shall be seriously annoyed!" (My father used to say something very similar.) "Mr Jim Murphy!"
"Point of order!" Davey was on his feet, Julia Goldsworthy was up, Norman Baker making his angry vole face. And Nick Clegg, party leader, put his oar in as well. Everyone talking. Everyone on their feet. Confusion! It went on for longer than I've ever seen in the Commons. Even David Howarth was yelling, virulently for him, "S O 29! S O 29!" (He meant it to sting.)
Davey was eventually kicked out and the whole party walked out after him. Talking to Lib Dems afterwards I'd say their anger wasn't, as John Redwood said, "synthetic". That was the real thing. The whips had spoken to the Speaker, as had Clegg. They hadn't tabled any amendments so far as this is the only one they really want. In all fairness it was a peculiar, not to say perverse decision. A show of speakerly strength, perhaps, that's stupid enough to be true.
Or maybe the Labour whips were against it. Maybe they said into the Speaker's ear: "It's a snobbish, class-based amendment, an insult to every working man on Clydeside." I simply don't know.Reuse content