The last week in Westminster before the Christmas Recess continued with its slightly unreal groundhog theme. A Parliament stuck in a loop repeating itself day after day at the Brexit Hotel.
Not terribly enlightening to be honest, and this week’s PMQs was only noteworthy because the Labour Leader got himself into a spot of bother as he appeared to mutter “stupid woman” under his breath as Theresa May was responding to one of his questions. Or ‘not’ responding I think would be a fairer definition!
I couldn’t see it myself as I was sitting to the side of him but the uproar in the Chamber was a sight to behold. Conservative backbenchers rowed in with Points of Order demanding an apology. The Speaker appeared pretty battered but repeated again and again that as he hadn’t seen it himself, he could not request an explanation or apology from Jeremy Corbyn.
Later on numerous people and media outlets looked at the Parliament TV recording and most decided that is exactly what he had said. His office, however, insisted not and that it was “stupid people” instead.
Well, speaking as someone who has been hard of hearing for more than 50 years and really does need to lip-read on a daily basis, when I looked at the recording I thought it was pretty clear. Go online and judge for yourself.
Speaker Bercow subsequently brought it back later in the day and told the House his advice was that “it might be construed” Corbyn had said “stupid woman”. Nonetheless when Jeremy Corbyn returned he insisted he’d said “people” and that was that as far as he was concerned.
Of course it isn’t because his flat denial has meant the story’s exploded. I’m not sure where it will end but it’ll certainly now last for much longer. For what it’s worth, if I’d been advising him, I’d ignore the fact that some Tory MPs are obviously overdoing their indignation for partisan reasons (what some of them have called the PM is infinitely worse), it wasn’t a good look for the Opposition Leader. I am reminded of Denis Healey’s first law of politics - when you’re in a hole, stop digging! He should have taken it on the chin and apologised sharpish, then Parliament could move onto other slightly weightier issues facing our nation at the minute. Just a thought.
Speeding Fines: Other Westminster news this week has been that the Labour MP and former whip, Fiona Onasanya, was found guilty of trying to pervert the course of justice by lying to the police over whether or not she had been driving her car when it had been clocked speeding. This could mean she’ll have to resign which will require a Parliamentary by-election slap bang in the middle of the final months run-up to Brexit. It’s a key Tory/Lab marginal so, as I have had frequent cause to write in my column over the last year or so, we really do live in interesting times.
Disability Debate and Police Royal Commission: Meanwhile in Parliament I spoke myself this week on the impact, some of it pretty brutal, of how the benefits freeze and universal credit migration was affecting many disabled people. I am seeing this first hand in my office and at my community surgeries, and its very worrying. I urged the Minister to commission an independent and robust impact assessment before a further one million disabled people are migrated from legacy benefits to UC. I hope the DWP takes notice of our concerns. And then my final action in the Chamber before the end of the year was to ask the Leader of the House to consider seriously the government setting up a Police Royal Commission. To review exactly what our police really need to protect us in the 21st century. After all, the last detailed look at our policing was more than 50 years ago. My Early Day Motion on the issue has attracted cross-party support from 46 other MPs thus far, and the campaign momentum is building.
Unfortunately the government’s response was non-committal but I will not give up on my demand. I think it’s sensible and the public are clearly behind it with more than 250,000 signatures nationwide. In January I’ll also be meeting the Police Federation to bring them on board with the campaign. Watch this space.
Hedgehogs: Finally a big thank you to readers of the Herald and others across our town. A couple of weeks ago I wrote in my column about my MP’s Christmas appeal for this year. It was on behalf of the brilliant local animal wildlife charity, WRAS, and how I was aiming to raise £800 so they could buy new hedgehog houses for the hundred or so baby hedgehogs rescued every winter. Already 46 of you have donated more than £1,000.
Thank you my friends. Eastbourne stepping up again.
That’s it folks. I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas. See you at the Bandstand on Christmas Day...a