It doesn’t get more touchy-feely than this. On Tuesday night the Tory MP Nigel Evans explained briefly outside Preston police station that he was standing down as Deputy Speaker after being charged with sexual offences against seven men, including one of rape, all of which he strenuously denies. But today came the long version, painfully long in fact, since four minutes can seem like an hour when the intimately private becomes so public. Rarely can an MP have made a personal Commons statement which more excruciatingly lived up to its name.
Because it came straight after Prime Minister’s Questions, the entire government and opposition front benches were frozen in their seats as Evans described how the allegations had left him in a “land of limbo”, unable to “fulfil my duties in the chair”. The charges were “clearly the most painful thing I have endured in my life alongside the loss of my mother in 2009 and the loss of my brother earlier this year.”
The Speaker, John Bercow, who granted Evans’ request to make the statement, said he was “warmly grateful” for the MP’s “exemplary” service as a deputy. But at times it seemed more like a farewell from someone retiring through ill health than from an MP about “to robustly defend my innocence and seek acquittal” in a criminal trial. Invoking Winston Churchill’s “sage advice” – “when you are going through hell, keep going” – he added: “I will see this through to the end, with the support of the people who mean so much to me.”
Verging on the mawkish, Evans described how it had been “one of the happiest days of my life” when he had been elected in 2010 as a deputy Speaker. When he told a fellow Deputy, Labour’s Dawn Primarolo, on Saturday that he was resigning “I even got a hug from her. Thank you Dawn.” In one toe-curling moment – and after thanking all others who had offered “hugs, prayers and good wishes” since his original arrest in May, “my family particularly, and my [constituency] association who have been marvellous” – he declared: “Even seasoned, crusty journalists have displayed a heart which I have never before witnessed.” Looking up at the press gallery, he added: “You know who you are.”
Evans is popular among his peers, and most no doubt fervently hope that he will clear his name. Nor does his statement remotely affect the outcome. Whether he enhanced his reputation for parliamentary judgement by making it is another matter.