Yesterday we saw two significant political events: the first TV ‘debate’ and a shabby, underhanded plot by the Tories to knife one of their own former MPs and Speaker of the House, John Bercow. I have to admit that I was far too nervous to watch the debate, as I feared it would be about as pleasurable as watching an England penalty shootout. Similarly, I was feeling pretty astonished and sad about the prospect of such a great Speaker being stabbed in the back and dumped from the annals of history by a dirty political trick.
As it turned out, I needn’t have worried about either. By all accounts, Miliband put in a strong performance, facing up to needless and irrelevant questions about his family and him looking ‘geeky’. He dispelled the myth that he is a weak man and faced up to the pitbull that is Jeremy Paxman. Okay, he said ‘Hell yes’ during the process in the manner of a US cartoon action hero tasked with defeating Communism, but it actually worked kind of well with Ed’s self-deprecating, slightly awkward style. But above all, the debate allowed the public to see Miliband as the man he is. A man of principle and substance with a genuine desire to right some of the deepest wrongs in British society and move away from the lax, managerial era of New Labour.
And this is exactly how it should be. Ed Miliband is far from weak. I’d just like you to think for a second about the incredible feat it would be if Labour end up in a position to form a strong government. Throughout his tenure as leader, Miliband has had to stand up to a vicious gutter press mocking his appearance, his personality and his credibility He has to deal with ridiculous attacks from the Tories, backed up by their media friends, accusing him of the same personal flaws as well as being a ‘union puppet’. He has even had to deal with repeated attacks and snide asides from Blair, Mandelson, Reid, Milburn et al – all that was rotten at the heart of New Labour. Yet far from crumbling in the face of the pressure, he took on the giants behind the press – Murdoch and Dacre, took the Tories to task for the failure to address such monopolistic concerns and is unforgiving in his breaks with New Labour policy and rhetoric. I feel that yesterday was not the culmination of Miliband’s ideas and believes thus far, but the start of it.
So now to John Bercow. Elected as speaker on a platform of reform in 2009, he has cut a controversial figure ever since. Hated by many Tories for his swing from the right to the left of the party, his vocal Labour-supporting wife and willingness to shout down braying and untruths from the government benches, Bercow has nevertheless been a truly reforming speaker and influential figure. As a firm believer in parliamentary democracy, I believe Bercow has been the best thing to happen to the Commons in years. Arguably the biggest change he has implemented is the restoring of the power of MPs to ask ‘urgent questions’. Briefly, these questions allow any MP, no matter how backbench, to ask a question of a Minster of State if an unexpected or urgent situation involving their department arises. By June 2014, Bercow had granted 177 of these as of June 2014, as opposed to just two granted in Michael Martin’s last year in office.
Alongside this, he has worked to reform the hollering, overly masculine atmosphere of the Commons and attempted to bring a modicum of order to the place. Furthermore, he is intent on making Parliament more accessible to the people, speaking at numerous events to promote politics and speculating on its future, as well opening a crèche in the building to make it more open to female staff and MPs.
All-in-all a splendid man, so I was shocked when it was announced that the Tories had tabled a motion to allow the election of Speaker to be determined by a secret ballot when MPs returned in May. They announced this debate for the last day of Parliament when most Labour MPs would have returned home, allowing the motion to be carried easily. Luckily, word got out and Labour tabled three urgent questions, giving enough time for Labour MPs to return to the Commons and defeat the motion. A wonderful turn-of-events defeating a shabby ploy by the Tories. Seeing Bercow close to tears as he announced the result is one of the best videos you will see this year: