The Parliamentary calendar slipped seamlessly from saying goodbye to the severe cold snap and hello to a new Cold War with Russia. “Beast from the East” became an interchangeable term for the weather and Vladimir Putin.
The poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal gave Theresa May the opportunity to be statesmanlike, Jeremy Corbyn to take his time becoming statesmanlike, and Gavin Williamson to demonstrate once again that he’s a toddler in the statesman stakes when the best he could come up with was telling Russia to shut up and go away. Ya-boo sucks, Vlad.
The Defence Secretary was more thoughtful in a Commons written answer, but then they are written by Ministry of Defence officials who do the thinking for him. Williamson said: “We remain deliberately ambiguous about precisely when, how and what scale we would contemplate use of nuclear weapons in order not to simplify the calculations of any potential aggressor.”
Such an opaque declaration of nuclear policy is unlikely to give the Russian president pause for thought, but at least Private Pike didn’t declare war, given his fondness for kneejerk reaction. Show him a couple of ageing guard dogs unsuitable for rehoming and he’ll be first to jump in to save them from lethal injection.
Williamson could not, however, save his beloved tarantula, Cronus. The spider went from Pike’s old desk in the chief whip’s office to his new one in the Defence Ministry. The MoD’s no pets policy meant Cronus also had to be rehomed and now lives in Williamson’s South Staffordshire constituency.
While Pike was making ill-considered comments about the Beast from the East sitting in the Kremlin, Westminster’s inhabitants faced more localised difficulties dealing with the beastly weather.
A Commons doorman almost refused the PM’s spokesman, James Slack, entry to PMQs, citing his inappropriate footwear. Slacker was wearing trainers to get through the snow more easily. So was I, but I slipped in behind him before anyone noticed. Mrs May’s mouthpiece only avoided ejection by indicating Jeremy Corbyn was similarly shod, and no one had tried to stop him.
Our female politicians turned out to be more sturdy beasts and not even sheets of ice deterred them from tottering around in high heels. Ever elegant Immigration minister Caroline Nokes looked perilously close to toppling over at one point as she hurried to a vote. A seven year old constituent of the Tory MP thinks she looks very like Meghan Markle after spotting our favourite American migrant and Prince Harry on TV, greeting wellwishers in Wales. The girl’s father tweeted his daughter as saying: “Look Daddy, it’s our MP. Those people really like her. Is that her new boyfriend?”
Over in the House of Lords, peers got themselves into a tizzy over plans for zipwires for holidaymakers over the Lake District’s Thirlmere Reservoir. While their lordships complained of high wires ruining the national’s park’s natural beauty, veteran Tory and former pilot Norman Tebbit had other concerns. He said: “The Government’s first obligation is defence. It would be highly dangerous for aircrews flying at low level.” Indeed, it would. But if such recreational activity strikes terror into RAF crews, just think what a squadron of screaming Tornados would do to the zipwiring enthusiasts.
The Lords also said goodbye to their enforcer, Black Rod Sir David Leakey, who has retired to make way for Sarah Clarke, the first woman to hold the post. As a former Wimbledon tennis official, EU Withdrawal Bill ping-pong will present no fears. Peers were told of the time former Labour general secretary and LGBT campaigner Ray Collins wound up Sir David by asking if it was compulsory for spouses to wear tiaras for the Queen’s state opening of Parliament. “Yes, of course,” said Sir David firmly. “Good,” replied Lord Collins. “My husband has just bought one.”
Meanwhile, in Commons Committee Room 17, there was a seminar on political executions hosted incongruously by MP Andrew Slaughter. And I hear the MoD’s nickname for the Armed Forces minister is Bomber. Not because he likes bombing things, but because he’s Mark Lancaster.
Tory MP Andrew Bridgen told MPs how proud he is of having no rough sleepers in his North West Leicestershire constituency. Jeremy Corbyn offered to send up some of his from Islington by train. “I’ve no station either,” said Andrew. There you have it. NW Leicestershire is not only devoid of rough sleepers but railway sleepers, too.