Andrew Neil has interviewed former House of Commons Speaker Betty Boothroyd for STRAIGHT TALK, which will be broadcast tomorrow on the News Channel at 4.30pm and 10.30pm. During the interview she makes clear what she thinks of John Bercow's decision to dress in less formal attire. She accuses him of "lertting the side down".
Andrew Neil: What about the new Speaker, is he getting it right?
Betty Boothroyd: I think he’s making a good stab of it actually. He’s a young man who’s got a lot to say for himself. And I tell you, I went to see him about four days after he’d been elected – at my invitation – and I wanted to tell him a few home truths.
AN: So you invited yourself?
BB: I invited myself, yes, and he was very welcoming, kissed me on both cheeks, and one or two things I said to him quite seriously, look, when the House sits on a Friday I expect you as Speaker to be there on a Friday, it is a 5 day working week here. When a Secretary of State is making a statement, I expect you as Speaker to be in the Chair as a courtesy to that Secretary of State, especially as you and I always want the Secretary of State to come to the House first - all of these things which I felt had slipped sometimes, must be pulled back, there were one or two things like this. And another thing I said to him – which I’m still very concerned about - I want the Speaker to wear the uniform of the Speaker everyday. I had been just before I went to see him – and I was encouraged to do this - I’d been at a defence establishment function, people in uniform there, they said to me, Betty, we’re proud of our uniform, why isn’t the Speaker? Seven hundred years of this. I said, right you’ve encouraged me to go and see him. I said, “Look” - I’ve told him about this - I said, “Nurses like their uniform, boy scouts, girl guides; you’ve 700 years of history behind you.” He said he didn’t feel comfortable. I said, “Well, look, I’m not going to volunteer what I’ve just said to you, John, but if I’m ever asked” - and I’m asked by you – “having told you what I thought about it, and what I think about it, I’m going to say that, and I just think you’re letting the side down a little bit, by not doing that.”
Personally, I would like to see the Speaker wearing a wig again. But I'm a traditionalist.