Friday, June 18, 2010

House Points: Lib Dem MPs' maiden speeches

This week's House Points Liberal Democrat News was written in my hotel room in Church Stretton while I contemplated this view.

Thanks to Lib Dem Voice for assembling the materials for me.

The Maidens

There are three rules for maiden speeches. You have to say something nice about your predecessor – even if you have devoted 20 years of your life to getting rid of him. You have to describe your constituency in glowing terms – which can be more difficult in some seats than others. And you must not be controversial – though these days most new MPs mention that convention before going on to break it in an attempt to show what tough, uncompromising individuals they are.

With these rules in mind, let’s see how the new Liberal Democrat MPs are getting on.

First prize for praising your predecessor went to Duncan Hames (Chippenham). Because there have been substantial boundary changes in Wiltshire he had to praise no fewer than four of them. So he namechecked Sir Richard Needham from the old Chippenham seat, Dr Andrew Murrison from Westbury and Michael Ancram from Devizes.

But what really clinched it for him was that he found something nice to say about James Gray from North Wiltshire.

Gordon Birtwhistle took an early lead in the second contest by describing his new Burnley seat as “a special place at the heart of Pennine Lancashire, with lovely countryside and friendly people”. Stephen Lloyd hit back by describing Eastbourne as “a splendid town with a fine sea front, wonderful architecture and flanked by the stunning South Downs.” And David Ward (Bradford East) struck a rare note of honesty in this category: “I love my constituency, I really do, but it does have its problems.”

Controversial subject raised by new Lib Dem MPs included the loss of manufacturing jobs (Ian Swales, Redcar), high water bills and low incomes (Stephen Gilbert, St Austell & Newquay) and the travails of Scottish banking (Michael Crockart, Edinburgh West). Simon Wright (Norwich South) called for the dualling of the A11: “It has been estimated that for every pound required to complete the dualling, the local economy would benefit by £5.”

There is one final rule for maiden speeches: they must not be too long or you will be cut off in mid sentence by the speaker. Sadly, both Michael Crockart and Stephen Lloyd broke this one.

There is no excuse. A newspaper columnist cannot simply ignore the word length the editor has...

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