Gerri Peev: Baronets, tribunes and knights felled by Bercow's revolution
WATCH and learn Iran, this is how to mount a revolution.
Ten champions of reform lined up yesterday to outline how they would restore democracy to the mother (expletive optional] of all parliaments.
Among those seeking to shake up the Establishment were two deputy speakers who had presided over the current system; a baronet; three knights; two former ministers; and one or two who behaved as haughtily as queens. It was like a bad game of chess.
There were no prayers before this special session: why bother, when MPs were already on their knees over the expenses debacle?
First out of the traps was Margaret Beckett, who, clad in silver, has something of the lean greyhound about her – it's easy to forget she briefly led Labour after John Smith died and has held a front-bench role for 33 years – set out how she would be the best candidate for change.
Tweeting behind her was Labour blogger Tom Harris, whose thumbs moved over his mobile more swiftly than Jacqui Smith's husband's over his TV remote control.
Next up was the Lib Dems' only contender, Alan Beith. Out of kindness, it is best perhaps to skip over this one. Pocket-sized hobbit John Bercow was next. He kept stressing his youth. (Only in parliament can one call oneself young at 46).
Launching into an impersonation of another grandee – Sir Peter Tapsell – Mr Bercow told how he had been warned that an MP had to be practically senile before becoming Speaker. Perhaps this was why he was speaking in such a deliberate, slow tone, so everyone could understand.
Another impressive speaker was Sir George Young. The Old Etonian ended up being whittled down to the final two, along with Mr Bercow. That education had paid off.
He was on course to replace Michael Martin (who left school at 15 to be a sheet-metal worker). Sitting behind him was Hugo Swire, another Old Etonian. So Sir George pressed ahead with his pitch for being the candidate for change.
He stressed his impartiality as chairman of the standards and privileges committee, the one that let MPs off the hook with a slapped wrist.
He also said he was "concerned" about the "bidding war to be tough" on expenses between leaders.
I share your pain, meted out by party leaders desperate to flagellate their own members in public (if you excuse the term), Sir George was telling them.
Another contender showing that Britain's Got Talent was reality TV star Anne Widdecombe. Alas, despite her high public profile (which she keeps tabs on by billing taxpayers 9,000 for a press-cuttings service), Miss Widdecombe's pitch was almost literally unbearable. As packs of hounds gathered outside the Commons chamber, her shrill tone even appeared to scare the Tamil protesters away from Parliament Square for the first time in months. Perhaps the government has stumbled on a new sort of dispersal alarm.
In a tone that had parallels with Susan Boyle lifting her skirt, Miss Widdecombe said she was the "vulgar tribune" that the public needed.
There was just time to recover to listen to Parmjit Dhanda. He queried whether MPs really understood people's anger. Clearly they didn't: he was knocked out in the first round.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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