"If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or your arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen."

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

The Election Of The Speaker

It's standing room only and the first thing that struck me about the new seating arrangements in the Chamber was the change of colour.  The benches to the left, which once accommodated the Labour awkward squad (Denis Skinner et al) are now populated almost exclusively by earnest men in grey suits and sober ties.  Further along, closer to the Speaker's Chair, things aren't much different.  Where once we saw a riot of red, fuschia, giraffe and zebra prints with outlandish, conker-sized Fair Trade necklaces there are just a few isolated outcrops of colour.  One other notable thing on the government benches is that there are fewer fat bellies  rolling out over waistbands on view.  I expect that will change once they get their feet under the table.

The Father of the House, Sir Peter Tapsell, has been an MP since 1959 and awaits the arrival of the Yeoman Usher of the Black Rod (Black Rod is ill today) with the demand from Lord Strathclyde, Leader of the Lords to attend in 'the other place'.  John Bercow is awaiting his fate on the back benches rather than taking the Speaker's Chair.

It's lovely to see how the language hasn't changed over the centuries: lots of saids, forths, well-beloveds, untos, thereins, dominions and letters patent and I think most people like to see the traditions continued.  I wonder how long it will be before our 'progressive modernisers' cut it all back to just a single sentence:  'I now declare this place open for business' and replace the hat-doffers in tights with more men in grey suits.

Sir Peter Tapsell and the front benches return to the Commons with the message from the Queen to appoint a Speaker and the business of the day gets underway.  John Bercow, sandwiched between a lesbian MP and a black MP, makes his speech seeking re-election and Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Con, Kensington) supports him.

And that's it, it's over.  "The question is that Mr John Bercow do take the  Chair of this House as Speaker.  As many of that opinion say Aye.  Of the contrary, No."  The Ayes were overwhelming and only one or two voices were raised in opposition so the motion passed without going to division.  Bumptious Bercow is with us once again.

Cameron made his first speech as PM , laced with humerous anecdotes, welcoming Bercow, Tapsell and the new intake of MPs.  Harman's speech as Leader of the Labour Party in opposition wasn't bad and she ended by saying how relieved everyone was that there wasn't a member of the BNP sitting on the benches (wot! No mention for UKIP?).  Angus Robertson (SNP Westminster Leader) said how the scrutiny of legislation would now fall to the parties of Wales, N.Ireland and Scotland since there was "now no second UK-wide Opposition Party in this House."  It didn't go down too well, being seen as too political for the occasion.  David Blunkett (Lab, Sheffield Brightside) made quite a good speech about constitutional changes and policy announcements being made outside the House - which is right but a bit rich coming from someone in a Party that did it on a regular basis when in government.

Royal Approbation will be given to the Speaker tomorrow afternoon and the official opening of Parliament and the Queen's Speech will be on the  25th of this month.  The first PMQs will be on the 2nd June though there is talk of switching to one 45-minute session on Thursdays, in order to stop some MPs sidling off to their constituencies on a Wednesday.

UPDATE:  There are no videos available of the proceedings but you might like this - it's about the renovation of Chapter House at Westminster Abbey.  It's one of the earliest parliamentary buildings and has been unveiled after a £3m restoration project following years of damage and destruction from the natural elements and pollution from Battersea Power Station. The building, where King Henry lll held his Chamber of Commons meetings in the 13th century, is seen as a predecessor to the parliament we have today and now boasts 32 new heads, several restored gargoyles and repaired stain glass windows. 

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