Belfast Telegraph

Dodds silences Commons sniping with plea on behalf of vulnerable constituents

By Lindy McDowell

Mrs May has got her mojo back. Which is not quite the same thing as a majority. But with her new "agreement" (Theresa's word) now in place with the DUP, yesterday's performance at Prime Minister's Questions suggested the trauma suffered in the general election was beginning to recede. A bit, anyway.

About her on the Government front bench also sat Boris Johnson, David Davis, Philip Hammond and Amber Rudd. All of whom have recently been talked about as potential successors to Mrs May.

It has undoubtedly been a difficult couple of weeks for the Prime Minister.

She was dressed yesterday in a suit of some austerity off-set with one of those big bead necklaces she likes to wear.

The beads were almost as large as the bags that have recently appeared beneath her eyes. Obviously there have been a few sleepless nights.

Her hair, normally well-coiffed, seemed a little more... well... Boris-esque.

Boris, whose blond barnet began the session slightly skew-whiff, appeared even more tousled by the end. How does that happen? There is no wind in the Commons.

Not of the breezy sort anyway. Boris was wearing a green tie.

By the Prime Minister's side was James Brokenshire, Northern Ireland Secretary of State, who in the earlier NI Questions in the House had been challenged by Alison Thewliss (SNP Glasgow Central) about the deal.

"We're now in the slightly odd position where each DUP MP is worth more than Ronaldo," Ms Thewliss remarked to much deserved laughter. A clever line.

Would our SoS agree that it was now impossible for the Government to be even-handed in Northern Ireland?

Mr Brokenshire, angry in his rimless specs, sprang nimbly to his feet to intercept. "No, I don't," he snapped. And sat down again.

Back of the net, son.

Back on the (front) bench for Prime Minister's Questions, he was in more defensive mode, nodding supportively as Mrs May wound her way through questions ranging from the safety of cladding on high-rise buildings to Brexit. And, of course, the DUP deal.

The SNP appear particularly aggrieved by the windfall coming our way. Ian Blackford, the party's leader at Westminster, wanted to know if Mrs May had been lobbied by Secretary of State for Scotland David Mundell. Cut to Mr Mundell, who gave an uncomfortable smile. Mrs May said she received regular representations from Mr Mundell about matters relating to Scotland. Not exactly a straight answer.

"Did she receive any representations about the DUP deal from the Secretary of State for Scotland - yes or no?" Mr Blackford persisted.

This caused a bit of a hubbub. Speaker John Bercow, in full showman mode, called for order.

Having ticked off offenders, Mr Bercow cried theatrically: "Let's hear the fella... Mr Ian Blackford."

This last bit was delivered with the aplomb of Muddy Waters welcoming Mick Jagger to join him onstage for a chorus of Baby, Please Don't Go.

Brexit was a concern of Barry Sheerman (Labour and Co-operative) Huddersfield, a plain speaking veteran MP who opined that the country would be badly damaged by it. "We need to get our act together," he added.

Mr Sheerman expressed the fear that he did not feel the Government team was up to the job of negotiating a good deal.

Mrs May reassured him that three working groups had been set up and there was currently "dialogue on the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland".

Dialogue regarding the border? Nothing new there.

Jeremy Corbyn was, as per usual, in full flow about cuts.

There was an uncomfortable moment for the Labour leader, though, when Leo Doherty (Conservative, Aldershot) questioned Mr Corbyn's reported comment at Glastonbury that he would "abandon Trident".

Cut to Jezza, who appeared to be muttering: "I didn't say that."

It gave Mrs May the opportunity to deliver her sharpest snipe of the day about how Mr Corbyn was saying one thing to the many, another to the few.

She had an uncomfortable moment herself when Jo Stevens, a Welsh Labour MP for Cardiff, raised the matter of fixed odds betting and "reckless gambling".

Much laughter from all but grim-faced election gambler Theresa.

When Bercow called on DUP MP Nigel Dodds to speak, a sneer of baying circled the Opposition benches - on which the party still sits.

Earlier Labour's Kevin Brennan had noted this point, and drew attention to the continued payment of "short money" (which goes to the Opposition) and thus to the DUP.

Double bubble, he called it.

To Mrs May, though, these are now "my right honourable friends".

In seconds as Dodds rose to speak amid the clamour, his impassioned voice filled the chamber and a remarkable hush descended.

Mr Dodds spoke of the appalling rates of suicide and mental illness "in particular in my own constituency" and how the money sealed in the deal would go towards helping the vulnerable and disadvantaged. It would go to health and education.

His voice quivered a little with emotion. "This is delivery for all the people of Northern Ireland across all sections of the community."

People should get behind it and welcome it, he added.

The Commons listened quietly to his words. Put like that, it's hard to argue with.

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