Menu
Sun, 14 April 2024

Newsletter sign-up

Subscribe now
The House Live All
Health
Parliament
By Baroness Fox
Home affairs
Parliament
Press releases

The Speaker got it wrong but acted for the right reasons – he’s not the only one who needs to reflect

(Alamy)

4 min read

It is, so to speak, the morning after the night before and so while these reflections on the SNP’s opposition day debate on Gaza are written as tempers cool they are fresh not final.

The first thing to say is that the Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, made a mistake. But he did so for what I believe were the right reasons.

I sit with the Speaker on the House of Commons Commission and on other bodies including those concerned with security and I can say that he is obsessed – yes, obsessed – with the safety of MPs. It is the topic that motivates him beyond all others.

And it is also from that shared position I can say that the threats to MPs are far more widespread than is known in the public domain.

What happened was performative politics. Ghastly, awful, meaningless

In the lead-up to yesterday’s debate on a ceasefire in Gaza, a highly emotionally charged subject, the Speaker was consulting far and wide on how he could prevent all MPs from becoming exposed on an issue that, ultimately, no UK politician has control over.

That was why he wanted a Labour amendment as well as the government amendment to the SNP’s motion.

Now that, it turns out, was an error. It satisfied few and led to heated exchanges across the Chamber with the Speaker planted squarely in the middle of the bad feeling.  And of course, I can understand the anger of colleagues at established parliamentary procedure being manipulated.

But the Speaker has made a full, frank, sincere apology and I know will work hard in the coming days and weeks to rebuild trust. 

I believe that those people who accuse him of being motivated by a desire to help the Labour party are wrong. As I have already stated, I suspect the Speaker’s motivation in changing the rules was to ensure that every Member had a motion or amendment that they could vote on. Be that for an immediate ceasefire or a more realistic negotiated pause to the war. A pause into which diplomats could insert themselves to find a longer-term peace. 

What is clear is that threats to MPs have to be taken seriously, as they may be causing some to change their behaviors in regards to how they choose to vote. It is one thing to win an argument by weight of reason, and another to secure acquiescence to your point through the deployment of threat. 

There are commentators who say that the events of February 21 set a dangerous precedent, as Commons procedure should not be altered in the face of pressure. They argue it is giving into mob rule.

To which I answer: “Yes, you are quite right.” This is the point we have reached and it is both shocking and disturbing. We have seen two MPs murdered in the last eight years. A police constable, Keith Palmer, died on the estate protecting us and his workplace. This is a shameful record almost unique in Western democracies. 

We need to take our democracy more seriously so that attempts to intimidate its elected representatives are not successful. My duty in a democracy is to exercise, for better or for worse, my judgment on the big issues of the day, not those of the loudest voice shouting in my ear.   

But in strengthening the resilience of our institutions and those elected to them, we also need to reflect as a political class on our own role in the sort of politics that the debate over Gaza has exposed. Creating brutal dividing lines for political gain on a subject that is so volatile and so directly relevant to many of our constituents cheapens the oath we take when we swear in.    

We must not feed a false narrative that the UK Parliament is responsible for things over which it has no effective control. To hear some of the speeches on 21 February one would have thought we had operational responsibility for the combatants in Gaza. 

Regardless of the sincerity of the views expressed in the Chamber, I doubt that those in Rafah, either held hostage or sheltering from the bombs, are waiting to read their copies of the Hansard report.  What happened last night was performative politics. Ghastly, awful, meaningless but clippable for a Twitter feed. 

It is not just the Speaker that needs to reflect on the way forward. 

 

Sir Charles Walker, Conservative MP for Broxborne

PoliticsHome Newsletters

Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.

Categories

Parliament