Westminster farce

Yesterday was not a good one for the House of Commons. In an echo of the old saying about the cobbler's children being the worst shod, MPs - who are, after all, supposed to be expert in the theory and practice of elections - failed in the most miserable fashion to come up with a rational system for electing their own Speaker.

Yesterday was not a good one for the House of Commons. In an echo of the old saying about the cobbler's children being the worst shod, MPs - who are, after all, supposed to be expert in the theory and practice of elections - failed in the most miserable fashion to come up with a rational system for electing their own Speaker.

To be fair, a good deal of the blame for that has to lie with Sir Edward Heath, the Father of the House, who chaired the proceedings. Despite objections from all sides, from the veteran Tam Dalyell to the new boy Andrew Tyrie, he refused to act on Tony Benn's sensible motion to organise a ballot to choose the top two candidates, who would go on to argue their respective cases in the chamber.

But what was even more remarkable was the way that MPs actually gave in to the curmudgeon. Time and again there were calls for the standing orders of the House to be suspended and for the Benn motion to be put, but Sir Edward simply ignored them. If MPs cannot even stand up to the Father of the House - and their views should have been gathered and put to him long before yesterday's shenanigans - then what hope can we have that they will ever stand up to the Government?

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