Friday, May 27, 2005

Less a constituency than an incantation

Today's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News:

Feigned praise

Sammy Wilson, the new MP for East Antrim, gave the best guide to maiden speeches. His leader Ian Paisley had told him to say nice things about his constituency, pay tribute to his predecessor and not be controversial.

Wilson hymned the beauties of Ulster, but found it hard to be too kind about the previous member. He had spent years trying to get rid of him. Worse, they are neighbours: “In fact, he is only a stone’s throw away – I pick them out of the garden every morning.”

And controversy? He was doing fine till he got on to King Billy and the Boyne. But then he is a Democratic Unionist.

Let’s see how some of the Liberal Democrats’ maiden speeches measured up last week. Danny Alexander had an advantage: his is less a constituency than an incantation. Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey – there are coach tours with less ambitious itineraries. Dan Rogerson struck a nationalist note: North Cornwall “stretches from the border with England…”

Elsewhere it was local history time. Chris Huhne said Eastleigh was created when the London & South Western Railway’s works arrived there in 1891, and William Cobbett once lived down the road.

Julia Goldsworthy had to mention two previous MPs for Falmouth & Camborne. Not just Candy Atherton, but also David Mudd. He won it for the Tories back in 1970 and took it into his head to stand as an independent this time. David Howarth said Cambridge often changed hands in the nineteenth century, usually after the unseating of MPs for corruption, but did not name names.

That was tending to the controversial. Chris Huhne went all the way, questioning Labour’s mandate with the lowest vote share of any governing party since 1832. Dan Rogerson called for the law to ensure only pasties made in the Duchy can be sold as Cornish pasties. That is controversial to some, but if they stop claiming to make Melton Mowbray pork pies down there he may even win support from us in Leicestershire.

Sammy Wilson also said a maiden speech is like a first night out with a girl: “One wants to do enough to impress but not too much and get in trouble with her father.” I wonder what Dr Paisley thought of that?

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