The Sketch: We need leaders. The Speaker's demise isn't to do with snobbery

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The Independent Online

"The House is best when it's united." And as it seemed to be united in this matter, he resigned.

When Betty Boothroyd made her retirement announcement there was an audible treble gasp in the chamber and a woman's cry. Then, when she sat down, we heard a sound never before heard in the House of Commons: applause. It was a generous resignation giving, as she said, her successor a chance to get established before the intake from the following year's election.

Michael Martin's exit wasn't without dignity. He read his piece in 33 seconds and got on with his job as though nothing else had happened. But he left behind him no fragrant trail. It was, I fear, a little sour and a little soiled. Some MPs looked up at the Gallery with a hard man stare. They're not very good at it. But there is an ill-will from the floor of the House that is new.

Leaving open the question of Michael Martin's personal decency, he wasn't a leader. We need leaders. It's nothing to do with snobbery. The one thing I unequivocally admire about the man, is how he came from there to here, or hereabouts.

The House was absolutely packed for the second day in a row. The press gallery had never been so crowded. Very quiet again. And then it was quick, like an execution. The last journalists in may have missed it altogether. The reaction in the House was very interesting. There wasn't a reaction. They sat like puddings, and questions began.

Then the place started to drain and a sequence of MPs (all Labour) approached the chair to pay their last respects. There was that sort of devotional handshake, light but faithful. His large paw occasionally came down to cover a favoured hand. Not fatherly but godfatherly.

Many Scots MPs came one by one for the touch. It was a neat summary of the tribalism that caused his demise. He was brought down by his exclusive loyalty to the interests of his family, his clan, his tribe. Shortly afterwards that other great tribalist, Gordon Brown, gave a press conference.

Everything was Gordon. The Speaker's plan was "not sufficient", Gordon's plan would sweep away centuries of fusty tradition. He said twice that these things couldn't be "run like a gentlemen's club". But in Gordon's tribal history, gentlemen are the oppressors. Gordon's plan (me, me, me) would not only save Parliament it will save Gordon too (it's going to be some plan).

"I hope other parties will be able to accept my proposals. I want to do it on a consensual basis."

That's what consensus means in Gordon's tribe: everybody does what he says.

simonacrr@sketch.sc

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