The Sketch: Mrs Speaker may not like it, but the Tories certainly did
Donald Macintyre writes political sketches for The Independent, having been Jerusalem correspondent since 2004, covering Israel and the Occupied Territories, as well as travelling for the paper to Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, Libya and Egypt. As Political Editor and then Chief Political Commentator, he previously covered the John Major and early Tony Blair era. He has written for the Daily Express, Sunday Times, Times and Sunday Telegraph, and Sunday Correspondent. He is the author of Mandelson and the Making of New Labour (2000).
Monday 15 April 2013
It’s not exactly WH Auden’s famous “Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone/Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone/Silence the pianos and with muffled drum/Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come…” But Speaker John Bercow’s gesture to the memory of Lady Thatcher comes pretty close: silencing Big Ben for the duration of her funeral tomorrow.
It’s a long time since the Speaker was a fully paid-up member of the Thatcherite tendency. And his wife Sally, an avowed Labour supporter, has said she will be staying away from St Paul’s “since the last time I looked, this was the 21st century”, and she is under no obligation to join her husband to take part in the “attempted canonisation” of the late Prime Minister.
But yesterday Speaker Bercow drew a fulsome tribute from Francis Maude, the minister chairing the committee organising the funeral, by announcing he had decided that “the most appropriate means of indicating our sentiments would be for the chimes of Big Ben and the chimes of the Great Clock to be silent”.
Mr Bercow added: “I believe there can be a profound dignity and deep respect both expressed in and through silence and I am sure that the House will agree.” But then how could it not, given that silence is not normally a speciality of the Commons – or its Speaker?
The move reinforces the –much-disputed – comparison with Winston Churchill, since the last time it was similarly stopped was to mark the funeral of the wartime Prime Minister when he died in 1965. It also stopped in the Seventies, when it broke down – but then Lady Thatcher’s supporters have been arguing for the past week that so did everything else.
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