Maiden Voyages - The Lords Get Off The Mark
3 min read
A small landmark for political nerds was reached on 5 March, the 582nd successive day on which there had not been a Commons by-election, eclipsing that gloomy period from Ogmore in 2002 to Brent East in 2003 when not a single droplet of fresh blood entered the body politic.
This is unhelpful for an occasional column on maiden speeches, but at least the drought will soon end. By-elections are coming in Hartlepool, Airdrie and Shotts and Chesham and Amersham, where the recent death of Dame Cheryl Gillan was mourned on all sides, and we can look forward to new voices, perhaps even a maiden speech on the aerodynamics of masonry should Nick The Incredible Flying Brick win Hartlepool for the Loony Party.
Until then, we turn to the Lords for our debutants. Five got off the mark in the debate on the Budget last month, which featured a contest to see who could be prolier than thou between Wajid Khan and Peter Cruddas. Khan spoke of how his first encounter with a lord was giving one a lift from Preston train station when he worked as a taxi driver. Khan’s father was also a taxi driver, he said, thus proving that the hereditary principle still flourishes in the upper house.
Cruddas then said that he had left his Hackney comprehensive with no qualifications aged 15. “My mum needed the money,” he explained. Money is no longer a problem. The Tory peer’s wealth makes the third debutant, Richard Benyon, the richest MP when he represented Newbury, look boracic as they say in Cruddas’s old manor (boracic lint = skint). Benyon looked a touch nervous, something he attributed to the “relentless politeness” in the Lords. They kill with kindness there.
The Lords also don’t like prattle. Henry Bellingham, like Benyon a former MP, began optimistically by saying that his maiden speech in the Commons had lasted 25 minutes. This was met with laughter and the suggestion that he had already gone on long enough. Three minutes was all he got.
The final maiden speech came from Jacqueline Foster, another beneficiary of upwards mobility, in her case 30,000 feet upwards, having been a stewardess with British Airways. A decade as a Tory MEP had won her an upgrade to first class. She was overshadowed, however, by another former MEP’s maiden speech the previous week when Daniel Hannan marked himself down as One to Watch.
Hannan said he had been warned that a maiden speech should be uncontroversial. His unnamed adviser then looked at him significantly, aware of his back catalogue. “You particularly, Hannan, should pick something uncontroversial.” He had toyed with speaking in a debate on whether public lavatories should be exempt from business rates (relief for relief, you might say) but chose instead one on police and crime commissioners.
This is an issue where Hannan had been a pioneer. In 2005, he called for a revival of the ancient sheriffs to control local policing. They came into existence seven years later, watered-down and with a different name. Sheriff was felt to be “too John Wayne”, Hannan sighed. “What a sad comment on the ahistoricism of our country.”
From here, though, Hannan developed an argument about strengthening local democracy and boosting accountability that was eloquent, witty, philosophical and delivered with barely a glance at his few scribbled notes. His only lack of polish was in the line of fuzz that had become attached to his jawline. An attempt at a beard, it seems, but one that cried out for a stern baroness to spit into her hanky and rub it off. That aside, it was a glowing start. Let us hope they don’t neuter his talent for oratory by giving him ministerial office.