Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Charles Walker's eloquent rebuke to William Hague's valedictory skulduggery

The Commons Leader must surely have wished that the last day of his quarter of a century in parliament could have ended otherwise than this

He is hardly a household name. The tie was very slightly askew. He had trouble holding it together as he neared the end. But this was a speech which will be remembered long after many by more famous colleagues will have been forgotten, the final line a shoo-in for a Dictionary of Political Quotations: “I would much rather be an honourable fool in this and any other matter than a clever man.”

Above all, the Conservative Charles Walker’s speech must have been painful listening for William Hague, impassive as he looked, as he scrawled notes on the front bench, the Commons Leader surely wishing that the last day of his quarter of a century in parliament could have ended otherwise than this: trying (and failing) to execute a manoeuvre on behalf of David Cameron more appropriate to a second-rate students’ union than the government of the country.

This was about more than a Speaker Cameron would like to see the back of, and who, whatever his other faults, has done more than his recent predecessors to hold government to account. Another Tory, David Davis, said his “presumption” was for electing the Speaker by secret ballot but that this “went to the heart of the relationship between the executive and this Parliament” and should not be rushed through.

Labour MPs (and independent-minded Tories) gave Walker a standing ovation or waved their order papers after he told how as chairman of the Procedure Committee he had repeatedly called for the issue to be debated in prime-time. He described, his lower lip trembling, how Hague and the Chief Whip Michael Gove had “played him as a fool” by keeping  him out of the loop. “The Government was hoping that the party would be kept here under a three-line whip for a party meeting and others would have gone home,” he said, adding: “This does not reflect well on the Government.”

OK, Walker may not be a John Wilkes or a John Hampden. But his words owed something to that tradition of parliament standing up to an over-mighty executive.

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