The Sketch: This Speaker knows the power of the chair – and how to survive

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The Independent Online

Suddenly, with a choking jolt of understanding, the rugged, gravel-voiced Minister met and held the eyes of the Speaker. Never had he looked so vulnerable. "Mr Speaker, perhaps I'm wrong, I'm so sorry, I may be mistaken but I can't discern a question from the Hon Member..."

Their spirits locked. All the hurt evaporated. The last time they had spoken, oh, they had been harsh with each other – he couldn't remember why. Who had used the words "sanctimonious dwarf"? Which of them had threatened the other with expulsion from the Chamber? It all seemed so silly suddenly.

The Speaker was looking at him yearningly. "If I can help? I sense rather than hear that the Hon Gentleman wishes to meet with the minister." His eyes, his confoundedly blue eyes, seemed larger than he'd ever seen. "It's entirely up to the Minister to answer or not? As he chooses?"

"You are a wise old owl," Simon Burns said, as a rush of feeling swept over them. With a barely suppressed sob, the Speaker said: "That's the kindest description of me the Hon Gentleman has ever made." They left arm in arm straight into a civil partnership, took out a lease on Vietnamese twins and lived happily ever after.

Warning. Parts of the above account may have been coloured.

He really is a remarkable operator, the Speaker. He offends Tories spectacularly but the real action is in the making up. He's slapped down Geoffrey Clifton-Brown in the most humiliating way; some days later he gave him a few warm words and you could see the relief in the Tory MP.

Same with David Nuttall. Same with dozens of them. It's a pattern. Labour sees the original assault but doesn't particularly register the make-up (they noticed it yesterday). No, he's a trick all right. He understands the power of the chair, the way he is the centre of collective supplication, and how attempts at humour by the powerful are funnier than the attempts by proles.

Whether the warmth thus generated will help is yet to be seen. Bookies' odds on Speaker survival have been lengthening. But they don't reckon with the survival instincts and aptitude of this mutating organism.

PS: General instruction from the Propriety Desk to new MPs. Don't start a health question with the words: "Speaking as someone whose mother died of cancer..." It may have the John Healey touch, but in the odd way of these things, it comes across as boasting.

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