After yesterday’s high drama, it is easy to forget the House of Commons has only been televised for nearly 20 years.
Jacob Rees-Mogg probably regrets that interference with tradition, as he has been pilloried from all sides for lounging across the green benches like an elongated slug made sleepy by superiority.
His scornful posture has been seen by some as an example of manspreading, whereby males take up more than their allotted space; I think we should instead call this louche disrespect from the Leader of the House of Commons “toff-spreading”.
This is the man who on appointment sent his staff a dust-covered list of grammatical rules they had to obey. This list also contained the order: “CHECK your work.” To which we can now add our own instruction: “CHECK your posture you overentitled, overprivileged relic.”
Popular on social media today is the meme reproduced/swiped above. This shows a graph of the Tories’ falling majority drawn along Rees-Mogg’s legs. It is, I hope you agree, a work of small genius.
Sometimes the benefits of televising the Commons can be seen in the big moments; sometimes it lies in the small things. Yesterday we had both.
The big drama was prime minister Boris Johnson losing a Brexit vote as politicians opposed to a no-deal departure took control of Parliament to prevent this outcome.
Johnson’s performance was surprisingly poor and seemed to support the adage about being careful what you scheme, plot and connive for. Imagine spending so many years lusting after the job of prime minister, then discovering that you’re rubbish at it. So rotten indeed that your opponent rises to the occasion and wipes the floor with you (Jeremy Corbyn was having a good day).
The chaos continues; 21 Tory rebels have been suspended from their party; an election might or might not happen soon; and so bloody on and on.
Rather than dwell on these details, it is interesting to recognise how accustomed we are to the inside of the Commons. Often all we see are the unoccupied green benches, with the valiant few hanging around to listen to speeches addressed to an empty House. But when high drama is due, those MPs come streaming in like theatregoers on a first night.
Yesterday the small details were telling. Incidentally, I will spare the pictorial proof of Brexiteer Iain Duncan Smith picking his nose and then eating what he had harvested. It would be nice to think that image would sink the man at last.
Here, instead, are other telling images. If you’ve been wondering what might bring joy to Theresa May, the magic potion lay in watching her successor cock things up. This snap of Mrs Maybe laughing next to former chancellor Ken Clarke (one of the rebels) is a delight.
Clarke appears in another clip, this time from Newsnight, where he was asked by Emily Maitlis if he still recognised his party. He replied: “No. It’s been taken over by a rather knock-about character”, adding that Boris Johnson’s cabinet was the “most right-wing cabinet any Conservative Party’s ever produced”.
Clarke shared the Newsnight sofa with another Tory rebel, Sir Nicholas Soames – grandson of Johnson’s great hero, Winston Churchill.
The still here shows Clarke and Soames giggling like aged schoolboys while a Tory suit tries to put a gloss on the mess made by Johnson.
Incidentally, we already knew that Boris Johnson was bad boyfriend material. This morning Tory rebel Rory Stewart reveals that he was dumped by text, saying that was how he learned he’d had the whip removed.
Incidentally times two, the televising of the Commons began on November 21, 1989 with the State Opening of Parliament. On the Parliament website it is reported that the debate went on for a long time before permission was granted – “As far back as 1923 the BBC’s first General Manager, John Reith, sought to broadcast the King’s Speech at the State Opening of Parliament, but permission was refused.”
It’s fair to say it’s been a good and important opening of previously shut doors. And the snapshot images of lounging toffs and Brexit nosepickers have, in their way, enriched national life.