Magazine article The Spectator

The Spec T a T Or's No T esThe Spec T a T Or's No T

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spec T a T Or's No T esThe Spec T a T Or's No T

Article excerpt

Since the Speakership of the House of Commons depends on general acceptance for the holder to be able to do his job, it would seem to be right to say nothing further against the new one, and wish him well. The trouble is that John Bercow does not have that general acceptance. His own Conservatives dislike him with a unanimous virulence which I have never seen before about any other politician (and there is hot competition).

Significant numbers of the Labour MPs who voted him in did so precisely for that reason.

So he is the focus of disunity. You could argue, of course, that Mr Bercow will see which way the wind is blowing, and go out of his way to be nice to the Tories, since they will be the masters soon. But would that be any better? Either way, he will fail to inspire cross-party trust. He is the wrong man, at the wrong time, put in for the wrong reasons, in a Parliament too tired, weak and divided to put itself to rights. He confirms - embodies - this column's thesis that everything will have to get worse before it gets better. 'A giant's robe upon a dwarfish thief', indeed - except that he is not even wearing the full kit, but just what looks like an undergraduate gown.

So far as I know, this election of the Speaker is the first time the secret ballot has been used in a parliamentary vote (though it has often been used within parliamentary parties - in leadership elections, for instance) in the era of the universal franchise. Secrecy goes against the principle of Parliament that we, the voters, are entitled to know how the people we elect vote in the Chamber to which we have elected them. The argument for secrecy, which seems strong, is that it is the only way to stop MPs being controlled by the whips. If you had a secret ballot for all parliamentary votes, you would abolish the power of whips.

On the other hand, you would make MPs absolutely unaccountable for their decisions.

'Transparency' is the word of the hour, yet we are all in favour of the secret ballot. What a muddle we are in.

A friend recently took his child to hospital in London, for an emergency, in the night. You must take the patient to another hospital, he was told. So, at 2.30 in the morning, he did so. When he arrived, he found that the hospital had a pay-and-display car park, and was charging the same high rate as during the day, even though there was no charge in the surrounding streets. To avoid a fine, he had to pay on entry. Because of the way NHS hospitals work, or rather, don't work, he could not possibly tell how long he would be inside, so he decided to pay £15 for the rest of the night. The machine accepted only coins, and so my friend needed at least eight coins. The only change machine, in a distant part of the hospital, was out of order, and the hospital reception was closed. And all this was taking place at a time of high stress, with the ill child in tow. It is not unreasonable for hospitals to charge for car-parking, but this combination of small-hours profiteering with bureaucratic lack of consideration perfectly illustrates how the NHS gets the worst of private and public sectors.

The report designed to create a 'Digital Britain' which Lord Carter left as his parting gift to government last week advocates a new principle of taxation. He wants a part of the BBC licence fee to be set aside to help various non-BBC broadcasting enterprises, such as regional news, which are considered worthy. …

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