The cockpit of the nation*
It will be interesting to see how the return of Parliament changes the political landscape. Today sees the first PMQs outing of Keir Starmer as Labour leader but of course I won’t be able to pass judgement on that until I’ve heard what Laura Kuenssberg has had to say. MPs will be limited to 50 at any one time in the House of Commons chamber. In normal circumstances this would be a vast improvement, since for 95% of the time you’d rarely find more than 20 present as some boring legislation churned its way through procedures. Indeed, from my observations, the chamber might be the best place to find an uninterrupted escape from politics, a place for a quiet nap in the afternoon with the drone of some monotone hastening the drooping of eyelids. The question opposition MPs face now is whether to launch strident attacks on the government for its incompetent handling of the crisis. I hope they do, and don’t go into the pathetic ‘this is above politics’ mode. That is very often the defence of the indefensible, as if somehow ministers were rising to or above the challenge and should not be robustly challenged. Let’s never forget that it was precisely because MPs did attack the government of the day that led to Churchill replacing Chamberlain. The trouble with this comparison with today’s crisis is that I can’t think of a single Churchill waiting in the wings. Will Keir inspire us?
*UPDATE I watched PMQs and can’t say Starmer’s first performance deserved a rave review. He came across as rather downbeat and sober, which is maybe what the occasion called for. So I hope when the appropriate time comes he will manage to put some spark into his presentation. It didn’t help of course that this session lacked any of the drama a packed chamber can generate. He perhaps wanted to come across as somebody who tackles things forensically, but here too I was a bit disappointed. When asking about the unheeded offers of PPE from UK firms, he should have mentioned a few of these by name. Not doing so made it much easier for Dominic Raab to wriggle off the hook and blather in generalities. In normal times a question about shunning an EU wide procurement process might have been timely, given the statement of a senior civil servant yesterday that it was somehow to do with Brexit ideology. But Starmer won’t go there, I suppose because he doesn’t want people to think that he’s a closet Remainer looking for a cheap shot. So the whole thing was a bit of a yawn.
I suspect the main interest to viewers might be the opportunity the new format of a ‘virtual parliament’ presents to see inside the homes of MPs. Some clearly understand how important it is to set their laptops up in such a way as to show off their fully laden bookshelves. Others might want to sit a bit further back from their cheap laptop cameras, which tend to make chubby cheeks balloon outwards most unflatteringly. Image, boys and girls, image! Beware the danger of looking like a complete wally in a time of national despair!
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