IT has been widely observed that we saw the best of the House of Commons on Monday when it paid tribute to Sir David Amess, who was killed last week during a constituency surgery. Some might also aver that we see the worst of the House at Prime Minister’s Questions.

How to bridge that gap? How set an example to the lieges? How debate without vilification? How reform a place where convention disguises hostility, where referring to the “right honourable gentleman” is a fig-leaf for verbal abuse, where “with all due respect” precedes calumny?

Well, don’t look at me. For I do not possess a scooby. That’s what we pay our leaders for. But who leads our leaders? Yesterday, at PMQs, Labour opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer tried to keep the Monday spirit going.

He’s a decent stick, of course, a good debater castigated for being too reasonable. Let’s see how far this gets him, shall we?

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Sir Keir began by expressing a desire to continue Monday’s “collaborative spirit” in tackling violent extremism, which co-operation would be facilitated if the Government brought forward its Online Safety Bill – first promised three years ago.

Welcoming this collegiate spirit, Boris Johnson, a prime minister, said he would indeed bring the bill forward, adding: “I am delighted that he is offering his support.” So far so good.

Mr Starmer asked – not as a challenge but for clarification, you understand – why no criminal sentences were proposed for directors of platforms that acted as “cheerleaders for terrorists”.

Mr Johnson, promising to honour “the collegiate spirit in which he [Sir K.] began his questioning”, welcomed this new, tough line and hoped the Labour man’s party would join him in it. Hmm.

See: any need for that?

Sir Keir ignored the jibe, confirming that, having started in a collegiate spirit, he’d continue in a collegiate (the word weakening with every mention) spirit.

Accordingly, he asked again about criminal liability, prompting the PM to point out (trying not to sound tetchy): “I’ve already said that we’re willing to look at everything to strengthen this legislation.”

Presumably for collegiate clarity, he added: “[We] will have criminal sanctions”.

Sir Keir noted sarcastically: “We’re making progress.”

And thus the Collegiate Mask slipped inexorably from face to chest, and thence from chest to groin when Boris responded by accusing Labour of effectively backing the early release of terrorist prisoners.

“Really?” quoth Sir Keir. “After the week we’ve just had I really don’t want to descend to that kind of knock-about.”

Good choice of career, mate. And so it went on. Mask slipped from groin to floor, as both leaders ever more hysterically promised adherence to the “collegiate” approach while firing barbs at each other. New definition: collegiate (adj.) – “insincere, falsely co-operative, cruelly misleading” (from Lat. collegium, n., “mince talked in the Senate”).

Which brings us nicely to Ian Blackford, parliamentary leader of the SNP, whose mince – or perhaps a wee tattie (no relation) – had possibly got stuck in his throat, as he staggered to his feet and croaked almost inaudibly. Was his sore throat the result of too much recent havering? Or was he coming down with something and wished to share it in a collegiate manner?

What he did wish to share was his outrage that, on the eve of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, the UK Government had rejected a carbon capture project in north-east Scotland in favour of two in England. “We know this decision was not made on technological grounds,” wheezed he. “This devastating decision was purely political.”

Mr Johnson looked uncharacteristically rattled at the question. Usually, he perks up at the prospect of poking fun at the music hall Scotchman. Instead, he acknowledged the “disappointment … in Aberdeen”, but referred Mr Blackford to the upside of COP26 being held in Glasgow, adding: “I congratulate the people of Scotland (© I. Blackford) on their efforts.”

This was a red rag to a wee Highland terrier, with Mr Blackford modifying his catchphrase to bark throatily that all the “people across Scotland” saw here was “yet another broken Tory promise”.

Recovering his customary levity when dealing with Scotch matters, Mr Johnson accused Mr B. of being “far too gloomy”, adding: “I think he needs to be seized with an unaccustomed spirit of optimism.”

After this epic battle between Boosterism and Blackfordism, the next speaker, Tory MP Anthony Mangnall, added salt to Ian’s gargling glass, by averring of the throat-tortured Nat: “It’s always a pleasure to follow … the new Quiet Man of British politics.”

Oh, the banter. And decent enough banter too. Indeed, even the more peevish badinage at PMQs can hardly be compared with online hate, which is on another level altogether. If MPs became too collegiate, the mob would cry, “They’re all the same!”, and boot the mother of democracy up her big fat waddling behind.

Still, it is up to MPs to set an example of civility, and at least they gave it a shot yesterday. We’re sure normal service will be fully restored next week.

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