Why David Mundell was unable to connect at virtual Parliament

Twenty-one years ago, he made history with the first ever question to be asked in the newly reconvened Scottish Parliament.

Scottish Secretary David Mundell. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

He was hoping to do the same by delivering the first remote PMQ at Westminster from Scotland.

So it’s a particularly cruel fate that the history books will instead only record this observation from the Commons Speaker: “David Mundell is unable to connect.”

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And it’s made even crueller by the fact that his failure to log on during yesterday’s first ever “hybrid” PMQs meant the floor immediately passed to the SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford – whose connection was crystal clear.

A video grab from footage broadcast by the UK Parliament's Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) shows Members of Parliament sitting in the Chamber in the House of Commons where social distancing measures have been put in place. Picture: Getty Images

When it comes to the challenge of delivering rural broadband, it’s one-nil to Skye over the Borders, allowing us to enjoy the sight of Blackford surrounded by an array of football memorabilia of his beloved Hibernian FC.

The SNP chief was in the minority in defying the edict from the Commons speaker to keep backgrounds neutral. Most MPs followed the guidance and appeared against plain white walls. Thanks to the glow from a sunny day and dodgy, fingerprint-smudged webcams, it gave PMQs the air of a particularly successful seance. Stand-in prime minister Dominic Raab appeared to announce a £100m fund to support zoos on the order from a lost relative in the hereafter.

In many ways, virtual PMQs was an improvement. Tory MP Peter Bone was cut short halfway through an overlong question, and before he had time to mention Mrs Bone – even though she must have been tantalisingly close by.

The format was unforgiving to lobby fodder MPs, who looked particularly embarrassed to be reading out questions handed to them by the whips, sitting in their spare bedrooms in suits. It also shed light on the biggest egos, like Labour’s Stephen Kinnock, the only one to deliver his question standing up, and the only one to also have it documented by an unfortunate family member so it could be posted on twitter from every angle later.

Normally, such ridiculous behaviour is given cover by the braying and heckling of hundreds of MPs – but this edition played out against an enforced silence. It suited the seriousness of the moment, and also the seriousness of Sir Keir Starmer’s style in his first outing as Labour leader.

Promising “constructive criticism”, he gently but firmly pulled apart Raab’s nervous attempts to deflect from the government’s woeful performance on testing. “I didn’t need correcting because I gave the figure for the actual tests a day,” Starmer said.

With his naturally slow, deliberate style, the new Labour leader may struggle to find a higher gear when politics as usual returns – but yesterday was a demonstration of how far away that seems. The virtual parliament has no respect for history.

History didn’t even manage to log on.

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