Friday, December 05, 2008

House Points: Speaker Martin and the Five Members


Today's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News. In the event, Mr Speaker did not surprise us.

Open House

Settle down, class. Open Calder’s History of England and we shall read about Charles I and the Five Members. Tompkins, you start:
Parliament then passed a law that gave members control over the King's ministers. Charles I was furious and decided it was time to take action. On 4 January 1642, he arrived at Westminster with a great company of armed men to arrest Arthur Huggl… Hig...
"Haselrig," you ignorant boy.

Arthur Haselrig, John Pym, John Hampden, Denzil Holles and William Strode who were all MPs whom he regarded as troublemakers. The five men managed to escape before the soldiers arrived.

When the king demanded to know where the Five Members were the Speaker, Michael Martin replied: "Help yourself, laddie. They are hiding in yon stationery cupboard." He then rolled on his back, waved his paws and asked: "Is there any chance of a peerage just now?"

That will do, Tompkins. Sometimes I wonder about the headmaster’s choice of textbooks.

Because, of course, Charles encountered not Speaker Martin but Speaker Lenthall. And Lenthall famously replied: "May it please your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as this House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here; and humbly beg your Majesty's pardon that I cannot give any other answer than this to what your Majesty is pleased to demand of me."

If the current Speaker had shown a thousandth of that courage and independence when the police asked to search Damian Green’s office last week he would have redeemed his reputation overnight. He would have gone from being seen as an undignified and faintly partisan figures to being greeted as a hero of British liberty.

Now that reputation may be beyond salvage. By the time you read this he will have made a statement to the Commons explaining his part in the affair. But another leak suggests the line he will take has been thrashed out at a meeting to which only Labour politicians were invited.

Mr Speaker may yet surprise us. I hope he does. But I fear that, for the rest of his time in the chair, he will not be sitting comfortably.

And nor will Tompkins if I see him poke Ellsworth-Beast Minor again.

1 comment:

Peter Harvey said...

Good stuff. Sir John Elliot, one of Hampden's supporters, was an ancestor of mine. He ended his life in the Tower with consumption because he refused to lend the King £40 according to family legend. The history books say that he refused to pay his ship money -- but it all comes to the same thing in the end.