If you want a perfect image for the stupidity of our politics, it’s captured in a photograph from the House of Commons. In this action shot, Tory MPs bustle around Speaker John Bercow armed with angry gestures and their best outraged expressions. Bercow sets his own face in shouty-trying-to-control-the-class mode.
The story, if that’s what it is, concerns whether Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called Theresa May a “stupid woman” while muttering in the Commons yesterday.
Various people peered at his lips and concluded that he did indeed say “stupid woman”. Some of those staring at Mr Corbyn’s whiskered lips were the usual low-lying lip-readers who suddenly find their services in demand. This happens whenever someone in the public eye says something they might regret.
One of them was the percussionist Evelyn Glennie, who is deaf. Shown the Corbyn clip by a BBC radio producer, Glennie concluded that the Labour leader had used those words. Others read his lips differently, while the man himself owned up to “stupid people”.
This argument is remarkably stupid. If Corbyn did use those words, he was being stupid and a liability; but the Tory outrage was stupidly confected – “Please, Sir, Jeremy said a bad word!” – at a time when our Brexit-buggered land is grinding to a halt.
People will take whatever they want from what is, with dreary inevitability, being called “stupid-gate”. The ardent Corbyn crew will parade it as proof of an establishment conspiracy put about by the crooked BBC and the mainstream media; Tories desperate for a distraction from the chaos quagmire of their own making will pathetically jab fingers at Corbyn by way of light relief.
The story, again if that’s what it is, is all over today’s newspapers. The usual Mail and Telegraph-shaped suspects denigrate Corbyn, while others report the “stupid people” line. Some of the papers drag out the obvious pantomime metaphor; and if Parliament is a panto, you have to say that Theresa May isn’t much fun as a dame.
It’s not so much Parliament that’s the panto, as Prime Minister’s Question Time. Is there any further use or point to this gruesome game of political charades? The May/Corbyn double act is mostly all repeats and muffed gags anyway.
I’ll tell you what’s stupid: a country that can’t do anything because it’s spent two-and-half years arguing about something without getting a step closer to a solution.
I’ll tell you what’s stupid: a once mostly respected country parading itself around Europe like a drunk in a slanging match with indifferent strangers who look the other way.
I’ll tell you what’s stupid: a country that lets itself be led down this twisting path by a prime minister who, even though she lacks a majority, acts as if she were some sort of head-mistress dictator, insisting that her way is the only way.
I’ll tell you what’s stupid: me trying to think up any more of those. By way of distraction, it’s worth remembering Colin Dexter, the creator of Morse. It’s always worth remembering Dexter, a great crime writer.
In his third Morse novel, The Silent World Of Nicholas Quinn, Dexter cleverly spins his plot around a character who is deaf, and the solution lies in something spotted by a lip-reader. And the words being spoken were not “stupid woman”.
Incidentally, the chancellor Philip Hammond muttered that arch Brexit nut Andrea Jenkyns was a “stupid woman” in the Commons last July. The Tory MP for Morley and Outwood was defended by the never knowingly less than prickly Jacob Rees-Mogg, who said: “I cannot believe that the chancellor would say something so rude – not only to Andrea but effectively to all Brexit voters.”
Jenkyns herself brushed this off as part of the “cut and thrust” of politics, and the controversy went away. As will this one.