Three minutes before Prime Minister’s Questions, loud cheers broke out on the Conservative benches as they greeted their newest recruit, Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven & Lesmahagow), until recently an SNP MP.
She was escorted by Theresa May, resplendent in green, and others. The Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, said this demonstration was “totally inappropriate”, but some of us could not help thinking that piety unleavened by partisanship soon becomes intolerable.
The explosion and deaths at the al-Ahli Hospital compelled a solemn tone. Rishi Sunak declared pre-emptively that “we are working independently and with our allies to find out what has happened”.
He added, in response to Sir Keir Starmer, that “we should not rush to judgement”.
Sajid Javid, who asked the first question from the Tory benches, urged that “we should not allow events abroad, however horrific they are, to be used to sow seeds of division in our country”.
He commended “revoking the visas of any foreign national who commits an act of anti-semitism or any other hate crime”.
The PM declared more than once that hate crime would be met “with the full force of the law”.
Starmer, after describing some of the horrors faced by both Jews and Palestinians, said “the House must strive to speak with one voice”.
One could see what he meant, and Sunak agreed with him, but if this dictum were to be taken literally, it would mean the death of parliamentary debate, and render it impossible to raise to discuss any contentious aspect of the present crisis.
Stephen Crabb (Con, Preseli Pembrokeshire) complained that “last night sections of the British media were reporting as fact” that it was Israeli rockets which hit the al-Ahli Hospital, observed that “the outpouring of Jew hate on social media overnight was vile”, and invited the PM to agree that “any information coming from Hamas must be treated with a degree of scrutiny and cross-examination”.
Sunak, who naturally agreed with this, added that “we don’t treat what comes out of the Kremlin as gospel truth”: an interesting parallel.
Martin Vickers (Con, Cleethorpes) called to laughter for “the dualling of the A15”, and various other transport projects, until, on saying “and finally Mr Speaker”, the Speaker ruled that the House had been given enough of “the AA Atlas”.
Mark Eastwood (Con, Dewsbury) called for investment in the Penistone railway line. The inglorious contest for new infrastructure has become even more vociferous since the HS2 cancellation.
Jill Mortimer, who won Hartlepool for the Conservatives in May 2021, told the House that “on Sunday, Terrence Carney, a 70-year-old Hartlepudlian, was murdered by an asylum seeker”.
She complained that her office “is besieged by asylum seekers, my staff are intimidated by young men”, called on the PM to ensure that “people who have no right to be here are expelled”, and concluded: “Enough is enough. I want these people out of Hartlepool now.”
Parliamentary debate, understood as the right to raise contentious subjects, has not perished.