Mr Squeaker stared emptily, eyeballs swollen and liquid

Quentin Letts


22:30 GMT, 20 December 2012



22:35 GMT, 20 December 2012

Basso profundo: Jo Swinson resembled the Sergeant Major in It Aint Half Hot, Mum

Basso profundo: Jo Swinson resembled the Sergeant Major in It Aint Half Hot, Mum

Last days of the Commons before Christmas and attendance, ahem, was slight. Hangover season There were certainly a few bleary eyes and deep voices evident but it is not the intention of this column to cast aspersions. No!

We will simply commiserate with the high proportion of Hon Members who seemed to be suffering from coughs, cold and splutters. It sounded more like a doctor’s waiting room than an elected legislature.

‘Order! Order!’ croaked Mr Squeaker, announcing the start of Questions to Business Secretary Vince Cable and his ministers.

‘Splurffff! Aaaaah-choo! Prrrrrrp!’ went various MPs.

Speaker Bercow himself stared emptily at the world via eyeballs all swollen and liquid. Two lychees poached in syrup. He had a tall glass of water at his right-hand side and gulped from it like John Mills at the end of Ice Cold in Alex.

Minister Jo Swinson, Mr Cable’s Lib Dem colleague, was afflicted by the lurgy, too. Her voice, normally twittery Little Bo Peep, was basso profundo – think of the Sergeant Major in It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum.

Barry Sheerman (Lab, Huddersfield) coughed and coughed and coughed, poor chap.

A nasty case of colic like that, and the vet would be slipping on the elbow-length rubber gloves and reaching for the horse suppositories.

Gavin Williamson (Con, S Staffs) was another sufferer, all husky and mopping his face with a white hanky. Bill Esterson (Lab, Sefton C) rubbed his chops. A rifle-crack cough came from Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent N).

Speaker John Bercow had eyes like two lychees poached in syrup

Speaker John Bercow had eyes like two lychees poached in syrup

The voice of Simon Hughes (Lib Dem) had plunged so deep it was as if his Bermondsey & Old Southwark seat had been renamed Bermondsey & Old Virginia.

In short, the children were tired and peaky.

As far as policy discussion went, the most interesting shots were played by Little Bo Peep – that is, Miss Swinson. What a hardcore Leftie she is!
John Baron (Con, Basildon & Billericay) asked a question about the procedure when trade unions vote to go on strike. Should the threshold for such votes be raised to 50 per cent of eligible electors

Miss Swinson was distinctly unenthusiastic about this Thatcherite suggestion. In her reply she noted (coldly) that the new Tory police commissioner in Mr Baron’s area had been elected by a proportion of eligible voters far tinier than the 50 per cent he wanted for would-be strikers.

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Labour MPs expressed approval of Miss Swinson’s answer. Then Mel Stride (Con, C Devon) raised the issue of maternity rights. Should small businesses perhaps be given exemption from the legal requirement to give employees maternity leave for a year

Miss Swinson was displeased by the very thought. She stood at the despatch box with the rigid spine of a small girl sitting atop her dressage pony. She reminded Mr Stride that in the 2,000 years since the Christmas Nativity, great advances had been made not only in natal care but also in maternity rights, thank you. Translation: Get stuffed.

Labour MPs again liked this. Mr Sheerman even stopped coughing long enough to call Mr Stride a caveman.

Miss Swinson resumed her seat, stroked her long hair and looked jolly pleased with herself. Her husband, Duncan Hames (Lib Dem, Chippenham) watched closely from his seat some ten yards behind her.

In other exchanges, the House heard that female executives are in short supply.

There was also discussion about how few of the record number of new businesses being started in Britain at present are being run by women. It never occurs to the Lefties that the ruinous cost of maternity leave might have something to do with those statistics.

Some say that, in the event of Cleggito being defenestrated by a mob of gummy Lib Dem activists, Miss Swinson would be a candidate to succeed him as the party’s leader. I’d say Labour would certainly find her congenial company in any coalition.

Little Bo Peep as deputy prime minister Pass me the letter-opener, Petunia. I feel an uncommon need to stab myself.