Sketch: Downfall of a deputy

Nigel Evans' exit from the deputy Speaker job left MPs uncertain how to react
Nigel Evans' exit from the deputy Speaker job left MPs uncertain how to react
Alex Stevenson By

The discomfort in the Commons chamber was palpable. MPs just didn't know how to respond to the dramatic, emotionally-laden resignation speech from deputy Speaker Nigel Evans.

The MP for Ribble Valley - he will not take the Conservative party whip, after all - is facing charges on a range of sexual misbehaviour, including rape. He is hugely popular in the Commons chamber. But he has also now been forced from a job which many had seen as a precursor to, one day, a move to replace John Bercow. After the noise of PMQs, the chamber descended into complete silence to listen to Evans speak.

His tone was one of a man going through a mighty ordeal, prepared to take Churchill's advice that when you're going through hell, "keep going". This is undoubtedly a tough period for Evans, guilty or not. From the third row back in the midst of the Tory party, he talked of the "land of limbo" he now lived in and the "invidious position" he now faced. Evans said he was "so grateful to the Speaker" but spent more time praising the other deputies - especially Dawn Primarolo, who he even thanked for giving him a hug.

Parliament very rarely gets this personal. Even in most resignation speeches there is an element of defiance - Liam Fox's effort of two years ago is a classic example. Evans, who said he was determined to clear his name, talked of receiving spiritual advice and mentioned the loss of his mother in 2009 and his brother earlier this year. "Hope is that essential key to giving us a fulfilled life," he said. Evans' voice did not break during this address. He kept the emotion in check, but it was hard to listen to nonetheless.


The 'hear hear' he received at the beginning of his speech - and the more muted version at its close - is testament to the popularity he enjoys in the Commons. Bercow kept MPs for a few more minutes as he praised Evans for having "proved to be a loyal and hugely valuable member" of the Bercow team. He finished by pointing out that elections for the replacement will take place after the conference recess next month. There will be more than one backbencher who rose in search of lunch with something of a sense of relief.

An error-prone PMQs

Let's get one thing straight: this was a session in which both sides made some real errors. The Cabinet, led by William Hague, seemed to find Miliband's accusations of "complacency" hilarious. The Labour leader was using the word deliberately, of course, because Lib Dem business secretary Vince Cable has chosen to chuck the word into his speech today in which he criticises anyone who dares be even a little bit chirpy about the state of the economy. A serious, long-term Lib Dem versus a frontbench of Tories laughing at the opposition: this is one occasion on which Hague, Osborne and Cameron have got it badly wrong.

Running with a series of questions about the economy was a mistake, too. Unemployment statistics are something of an unexpected success story for the coalition (the real reasons behind the relatively positive figures are both complicated and bad news for the government, but there's no room for them in the to-and-fro of prime minister's questions). So when Miliband raised them he was bound to find Cameron coming back at him with a raft of facts undermining the opposition's point.

Miliband's questioning eventually got on to stronger ground - Michael Gove's suggestion that the poor can't really be bothered to stop being poor. When one MP started moaning Miliband pounced. "It just shows how out of touch this Conservative government is," he said quickly. That roused a thumper of a cheer from his MPs, who had until then been losing in the decibel stakes to the very spirited Tories.

But Cameron - or rather, Cameron's speech-writer - managed to get the government ahead on points with a series of jibes against Miliband's speech at the TUC conference in Bournemouth yesterday. The PM had been struggling to work out exactly when Miliband was finishing his point, and made light of it. "His speeches are so poor," he declared, "it's difficult to know when he's finished!" This appears off-the-cuff and so gets maximum adoration from the government benches. Ever since Cameron held that barbecue before the summer recess they've grown much fonder of their prime minister. Even if they do have to hand him humiliating defeats over foreign interventions every so often. "More!" they yelled. So Cameron gave them more. "He went to Bournemouth," the PM added, "and he completely bottled it."

Miliband's response was to attach Gove as an "absolute disgrace". This was neat and personal and effective. And the PM was genuinely struggling in reply. Then came relief from his pre-prepared jibes, as Cameron once again turned to Miliband's lukewarm TUC speech. "He promised us Raging Bull," the PM said, "and he gave us Chicken Run."

Miliband would probably not mind being cast as Mel Gibson, but that's not one of the movies he's rather be associated with. The Tories fell about laughing - and somehow, yet again, it felt like the prime minister had managed to get away with it.

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