Friday, May 25, 2007

Is Mr Speaker Losing It?

We all have an off day at work, but they seem to be besetting Speaker Michael Martin with increasing regularity. Yesterday, John Reid had just reached the end of a PNQ on the Control Orders row when the Speaker jumped up and started yelling at Heathcoat-Amory. Today Hansard records what he said but it does not catch the vicious nature of his remarks nor the fact that he jabbed his finger repeatedly at Heathcoat-Amory and turned bright red in the face.

Heathcoat-Amory's "sin" was to have wandered up to the Speaker's clerk and gently express disappointment that he had not been called in the Control Orders debate or in the previous deay's discussion about nuclear power (Heathcoat-Amory, as a former Energy Minister, would have been a voice worth hearing on that). MPs often wander up to speak to the Speaker's secretary in that manner. Michael Martin's furious reaction was embarrassing. Heathcoat-Amory may be the sort of upper-class Tory Martin hates but he is an intelligent, authoritative man. He is also, after the tragic death of a son, regarded with wide sympathy on all sides of the Commons. What on earth is wrong with Michael Martin at the moment? This is what Hansard recorded...
Mr. Speaker: Order. Leave the Secretary alone. The right hon. Member for
Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) was not pleased about not being called. There is
other business, including Back-Bench business. Do not complain if you do not get
called, because you do well.

And this is how Quentin Letts reported the incident in the Mail's Parliamentary Sketch today...

The statement ended with a few MPs still trying to intervene. Among them was
David Heathcoat-Amory (Con, Wells), a Privy Counsellor. It would have been good
to have heard from Mr Heathcoat-Amory because he is an expert on, among other
things, European human rights law. Mr Heathcoat-Amory wandered over to the
Speaker's clerk, a tailcoated figure who stands beside Gorbals. I could not hear
exactly what he was saying but it looked, from 20ft almost directly above, to be
a polite expression of sorrow that he had not been called to speak. Amory,
a former energy minister, was also ignored by the Chair during a debate on
nuclear energy on Wednesday. Maybe Gorbals can't bear the fact that he is an
English aristocrat. The old fool saw Mr Heathcoat-Amory's conversation with his
clerk as a challenge to his authority (such as it is). He leapt up and
shouted: "Order! Order!" He now started to jab his left index finger repeatedly
at Mr Heathcoat-Amory, shrieking: "Do not complain if yer doon't get called! Cos
you do well!" The Chamber fell silent, embarrassed. Mr Heathcoat-Amory, who
has friends on all sides of Westminster, quietly withdrew from the Chamber,
bewildered and hurt. I hear that Sir Ming Campbell, the LibDem leader, is being
urged to make a formal complaint about the Chair's recent handling of some
debates. This Speaker now has many enemies. Perhaps it would be a good idea for
everyone concerned if Ming was simply given the Speakership.

25 comments:

Iain Dale's Rabbit said...

Yup - always good to comment on only one side of the story. We've absolutely no idea what Heathcoat-Amory said. Maybe it was polite. Maybe it wasn't.

The sensible thing to do would be to hold judgement until both sides of the story are known. It would spoil a good anti-speaker story, but there you go.

Anonymous said...

A really good post Iain. Thanks for shining a light on it. Martin's bias is beyond embarassing. If the Tories and LibDems together complain about it, he has to go. He has sullied the office of speaker in a single generation. Boothroyd's bullying of women members was not great but it pales into insignificance beside what Martin is doing.

He's a disgrace.

Observer said...

There are quite a few people (I think of judges) who seem to have medication for some affliction that makes them testy and prone to choleric outbursts of unjustified rage.

The best thing is to have them taken aside and put in a cell until they can behave in public

Chris said...

Martin simply has to go, his single ridiculous outburst during PMQs regarding the labour leadership contest was more than enough to condemn this awful speaker.

As for making Ming speaker, I would be so sure. After the next general election the Conservatives could have a slim maoririty or be running a minority government, and the speaker may be called upon to cast the deciding vote. We would have to be foolish to put someone in the speaker's chair who would be trying to undermine ourselves at every stage.

Also, we ought to return to the idea where the role of speaker alternates between the two main parties. Sir Alan Hasslehurst has done a formidable job as deputy speaker, and would do well as Martin's succesor.

Anthoninus said...

I cannot stand Michael Martin either - his behaviour has been increasingly erratic. Remember his dressing down of Cameron for no good reason - and his complete acceptance that Tony Blair doesn't have to answer any tough questions at PMQs. Sir Alan Haselhurst is a fair-minded and gracious man who would make a great Speaker - the past 2 have been Labour, and it would be inappropriate for there to be a 3rd Labour Speaker, especially given the fairly long tenures already served. As for Ming he should be relegated to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee where he might actually be productive.

Desperate Dan said...

When Blair broke with tradition by appointing Martin instead of a Tory to the Speaker's Chair he presumably did so in the certain knowledge that beetroot face could be relied on to exercise the sort of bias on display at PMQs every week. It was almost Tony's first act of corruption.

Anonymous said...

Another rancid jock - when are we going to boot them out?

anonyyyymooooooooong said...

"Another rancid jock - when are we going to boot them out?"

Them? Whatever, but enough of the racism. It is little wonder the speaker has it in for English toffs when certain parts of the media and others are so condescending towards him. Gorbals? He has nothing to do with the Gorbals. To me, the whole speaker issue has more to do with him being Scottish, and Labour, than his actual conduct.

Also, Iain, the death of a family member has nothing to do with the issue, so why you included that in your post seems a little odd.

Roger Thornhill said...

I always like Sir Alan in the Chair.

I also dislike the way Martin so often absents himself from even key debates once the "big names" have spoken. Tart.

PMQs for me is a ritual never to be missed (I hate relying on media to filter the exchanges) and Sir Alan is an added bonus to Hague's wit.

Anonymous said...

'Perhaps it would be good' if Ming was given the Speakership??? Are you serious?

The speaker has to make decisions, and the Welsh Lib Dems have shown this week what an unwise choice it is to have Lib Dems make decisions...

DM Andy said...

Desperate Dan said...

"When Blair broke with tradition by appointing Martin instead of a Tory to the Speaker's Chair he presumably did so in the certain knowledge that beetroot face could be relied on to exercise the sort of bias on display at PMQs every week. It was almost Tony's first act of corruption."

Two points Dan,

Firstly, Blair did not appoint Martin, the House of Commons elected him. It was thought before the election that Blair would prefer Sir George Young and although he didn't vote for anyone at all, the likes of Beckett, Blunkett, Charles Clarke and Hewitt voted for Young.

Secondly the tradition is a figment of your imagination, with the single exception of Betty Boothroyd, new Speakers are almost always from the governing party. The "traditional" alternation was simply co-incidence, Tory Speakers elected in 1959, 1971 and 1983, Labour Speakers in 1965 and 1976.

Anonymous said...

Sylvia Heal is worse than Martin. if you can imagine Martin with two brain cells and some hormones - a dangerous combination - that is her. Bring back Sir Bernard. The present set-up is a corrupt extension of the government, whoever voted for it.

Voyager said...

Gwyneth Dunwoody would be fun

Tone made me do it - he's a bad influence said...

Didn't Hezza get annoyed for not being called some years back?
The then speaker sited his very poor attendance record saying #if you came here more I'll let you speak more"

What's Mr Heathcoat-Amory's attendance been like?
knowing Gorbal's incompetence, one of the best in parliament no doubt.

hyuey said...

While I think Martin's a pretty poor Speaker, his selection was not neceessarily corrupt. Boothroyd was the first new Speaker in the last two centuries not to come from the governing party at the time, and she might not have won had Conservative management been more effective. While the official "Labour" support was for either Sir Ming or Sir George, Martin had the support of Brownites and Labour backbenchers he'd spent time courting.

"As for making Ming speaker, I would be so sure. After the next general election the Conservatives could have a slim maoririty or be running a minority government, and the speaker may be called upon to cast the deciding vote. We would have to be foolish to put someone in the speaker's chair who would be trying to undermine ourselves at every stage".

The ways in which the Chair should vote in case of a tie are governed by precedent, so that shouldn't be a problem.

Chris said...

"The ways in which the Chair should vote in case of a tie are governed by precedent, so that shouldn't be a problem."

The present government has shown complete contempt for precendent on a number of issues. It would suprise me if the Lib Dems were to do the same!

DM Andy said...

Tone made me do it - he's a bad influence said...

"What's Mr Heathcoat-Amory's attendance been like? knowing Gorbal's incompetence, one of the best in parliament no doubt."

According to publicwhip.org.uk, it's 63.6%, 482th out of the 637 who vote.

Little Black Sambo said...

Would Sir Alan Haselhurst wear the the wig? Most important.

simon said...

Dear me, we all know Gorbals Mick is a complete f'k wit. Another thick, agressive Labour Jock! Is a 'vote of no confidence' in the Speaker allowed? If i were an MP , i'd start the bloody petition! Onto Boothroyd- i thought she was fab! I remember the famous massacre of a NuLab MP called Geraint just after the '97 victory! She went hammer and tongs at him. The poor boy nearly wet himself! I just would have answered ' well i apologise Madam Speaker, as a new member i do not have your many years of mediocrity in this House. I welcome your most constructive comments.' Some people have NO backbone whatsoever. If Gorbals Mick tried it on with me...

Anonymous said...

Once a Labour man always a Labour man. Still no doubt he'll be reclining on the benches in the "other place" soon enough alongside Baron Prescott(another true "son of the working class")

Trumpeter Lanfried said...

Gorbals Mick deserves all the flack he gets; the just reward for the massive chip on his shoulder and the hide of a tadpole.

But actually all the Speakers of the last 30 or 40 years have allowed Ministers, including Prime Ministers, to get away with evasion and obfuscation, year in and year out. It has reached the point where Ministers no longer fear, or even respect, the House of Commons.

In this respect the "good" Speakers like Betty Boothroyd have been no better than the bogus oik who now occupies the chair.

Richard Dale said...

Interesting to see that this is a genuine non-partisan issue. People criticising Gorbals Mick are in praise of Betty Boothroyd.

Interestingly Bernard Weatherill opposed her appointment, believing (with some reason) that she was supported for being a woman not because of ability. He changed his mind when she took the post and showed such skill. I have heard it said that he was shocked by Michael Martin's obviously-partisan use of the chair, although I stopped working for his close friend some years ago so had no inside knowledge by then.

Martin is a serious threat to the British constitution and should have been forced long ago by his own party. Unfortunately they never had any honour.

Anonymous said...

Martin must surely be the worst Speaker the HoC has ever had - in fact, he's dragged the whole post into disrepute.

Anonymous said...

Martin has never had a good press ever since he was chair of the Administration Committee which barred lobby journalists from the Commons Terrace.

They have had it in for him ever since.

A friend of mine recalls sitting near to Quentin Letts and Ben Macintyre on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee address to Her Majesty from both Houses in Westminster Hall. When Speaker Martin rose to make his address, both could barely contain their excitement as they bent forward to scribble away. Letts may actually have been salivating.

Unfortunately for them, Martin's speech was clear, well-judged and word perfect, which is more than could be said for Derry Irvine's as Lord Chancellor.

Anonymous said...

"Heathcoat-Amory's "sin" was to have wandered up to the Speaker's clerk and gently express disappointment that he had not been called in the Control Orders debate or in the previous day's discussion about nuclear power"

What's your source for this interesting snippet, Iain? Did Mr Heathcoat-Amory tell you himself, or have you just transmuted Quentin Letts' reportage and hypothesis from his sketch into incontrovertible fact?