The young ‘uns stepped up to swing the boot at absent captain: HENRY DEEDES watches as an (absent) Boris Johnson gets a mauling in Commons
The few that bothered to show sat almost shell-shocked, licking and pawing their wounds like a routed battalion.
No laughs. No smiles. No cheery ‘What-ho’s to colleagues swanning into the chamber.
No, not since Theresa May almost let Jeremy Corbyn’s Commie cabal squeeze in through the Downing Street catflap back in 2017 have Conservative MPs looked quite so humiliated.
It’s clear the Owen Paterson hoo-haa has well and truly knocked the wind out of Tory bellies. Some looked angry. Others simply embarrassed.
For the first time in Boris Johnson’s premiership, the faintest whiff of mutiny lingered.
And that’s because they were being forced to sit through a three-hour debate on parliamentary standards following last week’s disastrous decision by the Government to vote against Paterson’s suspension.
Sparse: MPs are few and far between on the Government side of the Commons yesterday while Labour turn out in force
Three long hours of nannyish lecturing and finger-wagging from the rammed Opposition benches revelling in the Government’s discomfiture.
Small wonder only a handful of Tories attended.
The Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle granted the debate following a request by the Liberal Democrats’ chief whip Wendy Chamberlain.
Sensing the spluttering fulmination already swirling around the chamber, Sir Lindsay appealed for calm. ‘Let’s do this right,’ he implored. He may as well have been speaking Mongolian.
No sooner was Miss Chamberlain on her feet than she was comparing Parliament to the Duma.
Seasoned grandstander Tan Dhesi (Lab, Slough) fancied a bit of that action – chipping in to describe the PM as a ‘tinpot dictator’.
Sir Lindsay snarled in frustration. Not that there was much he could do.
Of Boris himself, there was no sign. The Speaker explained he had a long-standing commitment visiting a hospital the North East. Labour MPs jeered.
Some even made passable impressions of chickens.
‘Run, Boris! Run!’ cried one.
Out of the firing line: Boris visits Hexham Hospital in Northumberland on Monday
Responding instead for the Government, was minister for the Cabinet Office Steve Barclay.
Ordinarily, the task should have fallen to Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg but after last week’s shenanigans he had clearly been benched.
And, judging by the fretful look on Mogg’s face, he hadn’t taken the demotion well.
Barclay opened by expressing regret. Last week’s vote, he conceded, had been a ‘mistake’. He whittled through his speech in double quick time. Clearly couldn’t wait to be done.
Sir Keir Starmer flew to his feet. How delighted he looked to be out of isolation having tested positive for Covid at the end of last month.
His colleagues possibly less so. Labour’s opinion polls always seem to flourish when their leader’s locked away. Sir Keir laid it on thick.
He accused the Prime Minister of ‘dragging us all into the gutter’ and ‘leading his party through the sewer’. He accused him of damaging democracy.
This from the man who tried to overturn Brexit, lest we forget. All afternoon, Opposition MPs snarled and gnashed their teeth.
But most worrying for Downing Street were the attacks which emanated from the Government’s own benches.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets with medical staff during a visit to Hexham General Hospital in Hexham
They had remained largely mute until the final half-hour when several young ’uns stepped forward to swing the boot.
Mark Fletcher (Con, Bolsover), who sits on the Standards Committee, was furious.
He insisted Paterson ‘would have been found to have broken the rules under any process you could create’.
Aaron Bell (Con, Newcastle-under-Lyme) said the decision to whip last week’s vote was a ‘colossal misjudgment’.
But the punchiest speech came from little Mark Harper (Con, Forest of Dean) – a former chief whip, no less – whose attacks on the Government grow fiercer by the day.
He described politics as a team game. If the team captain expects loyalty, the decisions they take should be sound.
He demanded the PM come to the House and apologise in person.
Down on the front bench, Harper’s successor as chief whip Mark Spencer wore a heavy hangdog expression.
A meeting with the boss back in No10 beckoned. There’s trouble brewing in the ranks.
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