The Sketch: The House gets tough on journalists – and calls them to the bar

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The Independent Online

Sometimes Parliament – "this sacred place" as Tom Watson called it – looks less than transcendental. In yesterday's emergency debate, for instance, it looked like a turtle on its back flapping its fins.

They've got this case of phone-hacking on their hands. Two MPs have definitely been hacked (they say) and three more may definitely have probably been a possible serious cause for concern (Watson, again).

They've had several committee hearings interviewing many of the principals and the result has been a big, fat strawberry up the wazoo. By which I mean a contemptuous lack of anything of public effect. Despite reports, inquiries, and hearings galore – nothing has happened. Now they've had enough. Chris Bryant, throbbing with sentimental earnestness, spoke for Parliament, for democracy, for 1688 and all that.

Bryant said there'd been 1,000 illegal transactions buying and selling personal identity data. The tabloids have behaved like criminals, the Met had colluded with them, national security may have been breached and he was urging Parliament to "become more carnivorous" by... referring the matter to the Standards and Privileges committee. Tremble, you tiny fools!

It's the most senior committee, you know. It's chaired by someone who looks like a failed FE teacher and peopled by waxworks.

But it has powers beyond any other committee. Tremble, I said!

Witnesses have to appear "on pain of admonishment of the House". What's that? "Summoned to the bar of the House," Chris said, "to be admonished". Please imagine Rebekah Brooks summoned to the Commons to be admonished. You don't know Rebekah Brooks, Wade as was, Mrs Ross Kemp as was? If you bolted her to a gun turret and filled her with paraffin we'd win Afghanistan in a week.

"Ooh look, it's that funny little Speaker person, do you think he's built to scale? Hello Dave! George, hi! See you at Matthew's Saturday? Are we having lunch after this? Ooh, you're fat, get away from me!" And so forth until they have to punish her by removing her and admonishing her at the bar in her absence.

Tom Watson spoke. He fancies himself as one of his party's hard men. He reached for the stars in eloquence and rhetoric. My notes say: bucket of blubber. "We are afraid!" he kept snivelling. "We are all scared of Rebekah Brooks! We are scared of the power she wields! We are powerless in the face of them (newspaper editors). They are the biggest beasts in the jungle! If we oppose this motion it is our shame!"

You pride yourself on having excised your bullying instincts, but Watson's cringing made you want to pull his underpants over his face and stick his head down a toilet bowl. "Things will get better," he whimpered, "because they can't get worse."

"If you think things can't get any worse it's just a failure of the imagination." (Old opposition proverb.)

So journalists came in for the best rollicking they could manage but it didn't produce a flicker of shame. One particular point is that MPs are just no good at finding out what happened. Their committees and judicial enquiries yack away for days and weeks but after 18 months it emerges they've found out nothing or they've framed their findings so feebly it comes to the same.

The fact is, Rebekah and four journalists would in a week get everything it's taken the Met and two parliamentary committees three years to discover.