The Sketch: The Speaker could be more indiscriminate in his barking and biting

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The Independent Online

A torrid few days for the Speaker, and maybe we've learnt something about him we didn't know before. He has a temper. It was probably obvious to you, as obvious as him walking around with a black and white bull terrier. I've only just noticed it – and what a magnificent specimen it is!

The trouble is, he only unleashes the thing on Tories. If a Speaker wants to bark and bite he needs to do so indiscriminately – men, women, red, yellow or blue. By the elevated standards of his position it's as though John Bercow has been trained only to attack black people.

This view of his critics is beginning to be taken up more widely. A momentum is building (not that there's anywhere obvious for the momentum to travel to).

He'll snarl at Tories but this week he also stopped Labour barracking Clegg, telling them to "treat the Deputy Prime Minister with respect – whatever they think of him or his policies" (my italics). That has in it a note of contemptuous incitement more at home in a sketch than a pronouncement from the Chair.

This partiality infects the good that he does. Urgent Questions are much more widely granted than under previous speakers. But are they granted to add to the vitality of the Chamber or to embarrass the Government?

Normally these two things are inextricably combined. But to grant an Urgent Question on something they're making a statement on next week, as he did yesterday? That prompts two questions: 1) What's the urgency? And 2) Does Ed Balls have a special relationship with the Speaker?

Having said that, it was a splendid occasion allowing Damian Green to announce the reduction of detention without charge from 28 days to 14 days.

It also allowed Ed Balls to accuse them of a shambles, Tommy Docherty to call it "a shabby political deal", and for Kevin Brennan to say they weren't reducing the 28 days at all (there are emergency powers being retained).

David Winnick, the old warrior, rose to remind us of the glorious victory preventing Blair's 90 days detention without trial getting on the statute book.

Julian Lewis asked "why this welcome amendment appeared in so many media outlets at the same time?" and Damian said he had no idea. He also found humour in the idea of Labour in general and Ed Balls in particular having anything to say on the subjects of leaks and civil liberties.

PS: Jeremy Hunt has a strange little white patch on the top of his skull; it's the result of an operation, people say. But whether they were putting something in or taking something out – that is yet to be seen, when the Murdoch ruling is made.