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THE SPEAKER OF THE HO– — USE KEEPS HIS JOB

THE SPEAKER OF THE HO– — USE KEEPS HIS JOB

BY BRAD JAMES

 

Today was a momentous day in Westminster, an act of rebellion and an attempt to change the rules late in the game before the election. Such an effort was valiantly staved away by the Speaker of the House of Commons. The Speaker’s role is an objective position in the Commons, selected whilst serving as a current MP. They oversee the motions and debates in Parliament and adjudicate the arguments batted back and forth between the parties. The Speaker even has the power to eject MPs from the House if they are behaving unruly and disrupting the due course of political thrust and parry. Yet a covert effort to eject the Speaker himself was narrowly avoided today and highlighted deep partisan divisions amongst politicians too.

Only yesterday, there had been calls for the speaker to lose his job which had allegedly become untenable. It was recently alleged in the Guardian that he holds a grievance against the Prime Minister, David Cameron, a perception that seems to have been supported when the speaker failed to rebuke an MP who referred to David Cameron as ‘lazy’ and spiteful. He is believed in some political circles to be biased against the Conservative party and to also lack the objective duty ascribed to one holding his privileged post as being politically neutral.  However, he succeeded in keeping his job yesterday.

    John Bercow was elected Speaker of the House from the Tory fold in 2009, succeeding Michael Martin, who was elected from the Labour benches in 2000. Martin resigned over what became a mini-scandal in which he allowed the offices of Conservative MP Damian Green to be searched by police without a search warrant. The selection of Bercow was hoped by the then opposition Conservatives that a more forthright persona from their fold would push their agenda and undermine a dwindling Labour Party. Yet Bercow has often refused to permit party affiliation to influence his post at all, which may have been the impetus behind the furtive scheme to wrest the position from him today, spearheaded by the Conservatives themselves no less.

     William Hague, former Tory leader and soon to end his tenure as MP, moved for a motion that a secret ballot should be the common process in future when selecting a Speaker. Hague, currently serving as Leader of the House of Commons was subjected to volleys of abuse and singled out as being a conspirator in a grubby plot alongside Cameron and Co. to oust Bercow, who has failed to impress the Tory leadership (mainly because of his objectivity, no doubt). Although William Hague argued that a secret ballot would free MPs of pressure in towing party lines and liberate them to truly vote with their heart. Yet Labour and even some Tory MPs have opposed the move. Tory MP Charles Walker, Chairman of the Commons Procedure Committee, tearfully spoke of how Mr. Hague has ‘played him for a fool,’ receiving a round of applause from Labour MPs themselves. John Bercow himself growing somewhat emotional when the motion was put before the house and defeated, 228 to 202.

     Such scenes as witnessed today in the Commons really do indicate a kind of last days of Rome scenario. There have been schisms between the Tory front and back benches throughout the course of the coalition government. Some of the blue blooded dinosaurs have accused Cameron and Co. of being too populist. Their right leaning egos bruised over certain progressive stances such as same-sex marriage. A handful have even gone so far as to defect to UKIP (Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless for example). So the idea of trying to overturn the position of a popular Speaker is baffling. Is it a late assertion of power and an act of appeasement to their dissenting back bench ranks late in the day, as Parliament is about to disband before the General Election? Ed Miliband after all has declared that he intends to pursue a majority, not even David Cameron has been so bold. Is this a last ditch attempt by the Tories to unify their party and aim for their trusted Middle England stomping ground? Stomping grounds however have a tendency to become barren with the rhetoric that has been spewed there for too long as it congeals to the petrified slag of broken promise. The Speaker has spoken up too much for the Cabinet’s liking, he has been fastidious in ensuring true discourse flourishes in the Commons and has often done so aggressively and forcefully. This doesn’t suit a government that wants to suppress debate and slip in measures by the back door… which is a route John Bercow has today ensured that he will never be led out from.

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