To sit in the House of Commons on a Wednesday prior to the pandemic was to sit in a zoo.
The grunts, jeers, cheers, laughs, howls and coughs of our collected elected representatives was quite the sound and did little to convince that Westminster was the “mother of parliaments”.
The chamber was a scene transformed today, however. With health warnings and social distancing guidelines still in place, the Commons was almost empty.
With its archaic surroundings, dignified silence and under the watchful eye of Speaker Lindsay Hoyle, the scene resembled more of a courtroom – with Sir Keir Starmer QC cast as lead prosecution counsel.
The Labour leader, in his first PMQs in charge of the opposition, looked to turn the heat up on Boris Johnson’s stand-in, Dominic Raab, for the slow increase in Covid-19 testing and lack of protective equipment.
Earlier this week one of Sir Keir’s MPs suggested the daily Downing Street press conferences were not revealing answers as ministers were able to get away with “repetitive cliches”.
— Dan O'Donoghue (@MrDanDonoghue) April 22, 2020
Mr Raab’s answers this afternoon did little to suggest the Commons was any better at eliciting straight answers from the government, but with parliament back and an able former lawyer at the helm of Labour, the public will become restless if there aren’t fuller answers to Sir Keir’s forensic questions.
Politicians aside, the best performance of the day came from the technicians who ensured MPs from across the UK could ask their questions.
All went off without a hitch, but for former Scottish Secretary David Mundell who lost internet connection at a crucial moment.
The Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale MP would have been the first parliamentarian to ask a prime minister’s question remotely – he will no doubt be delighted the honour went to a fellow Scot, Ian Blackford.
The SNP Westminster leader, appearing from his Skye home, will go down as the first MP to dial in to PMQs – but given how long the lockdown is forecast to be in place, he will by no means be the last.
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