Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Simon Burns and the seven thousand dwarfs

Yesterday Simon Burns, Minister of State at the Department of Health, was heard to mutter "stupid, sanctimonious dwarf" after the Speaker, John Bercow, asked him to respect the Commons' rules of debate.

In fact, to judge by Simon Hoggart and his Guardian sketch, Burns did rather more than mutter:

He started talking, and not to himself. We heard the words "stupid" and "dwarf", more than once. Some of my colleagues claim to have detected the word "sanctimonious" in there somewhere as well.

At one point he held his hand out, at what I can only conclude would be the height of a dwarf. He went on rattling, like an ancient car whose engine continues to run even after the ignition has been cut off.

An Ulster MP tried in vain to ask a question. Later Ian Paisley Jr, a man who should have been inured from childhood to the sound of volcanic rage, later complained that it was out of order for someone to "berate, scoff, scold and hiss at the Chair while another member is trying to ask a question".

This incident interested me because, back in March, I suggested in a House Points column that:

the Tory benches’ increasingly open disrespect for Bercow tells us something important about modern Conservatives. They are simply ungovernable.

Philosophically, their views owe little to what the philosopher John Gray called the “rich network of interlocking interests, social deferences and inherited institutions” that have historically constituted British Conservatism. Instead they offer a bundle of theory and grievances, much of it market nihilist rather than Conservative and originating across the Atlantic.

And personally, unlike their predecessors, this new generation of Conservatives have not been shown their place in the scheme of things by Spartan schools and regimental sergeant majors.

Instead, they have entered adult life with a cast-iron sense of entitlement and a certainty that no one, certainly not the Commons Speaker, can tell them what to do.

The fact that a minister behaved as Burns did suggests to me that I was on to something.

Burns' apology today also tells us something about modern Britain.

He did not apologise, as he should have done, to Bercow and to the House for his rude behaviour. Instead he apologised "If I have caused any offence to any group of people" after a complaint from a pressure group for sufferers of rare forms of dwarfism.

This bogus "if you were offended" apology will be familiar to anyone who has complained to a modern corporation.

Still, having involved themselves in the case, John Connerty and his Walking with Giants group, should finish things. From now on, whenever Burns tries to hold a surgery or public meeting the building should be besieged by hordes of angry dwarfs, vertically challenged people or whatever the polite term is.

Once he has been driven out of public life he can be replaced as health minister by someone capable of behaving like an adult in the House.


Philip Painter said...

As both a stupid and sanctimonious person I expect two genuine apologies.

Philip Painter said...

...but then maybe I'm just being stupid and sanctimonious.