Speaker Watch: How Bercow Will Spin the Canberra Criticism

An astonishing intervention from the Clerk of the Australian parliament has put a cat – or a tiger – among the pigeons.

The selection of Carol Mills for the £190,000 job of presiding over parliamentary procedure was described by the highest officer in the Australin parliament as bizarre. An affront. An embarrassment.

You need a peculiarly corkscrew vision to see into the Speaker’s ways. His appointment of a chief clerk who knows nothing about clerking is a fine example of his twistiness.

Australian Carol Mills, director of facilities in Canberra parliament, was appointed to the £190,000 job by a panel selected – unprecedentedly – by the Speaker.

The appointment has been gathering controversy over the summer recess for more reasons than one. It’s a power grab. The process was improperly managed. It’s an example of his policy of Diminish and Rule. It’s effectively abolishing the position of Chief Clerk. It has astonished the Commons.

Opposition is gathering on all sides. Labour, Tory, male, female, legal and parliamentary.

But let us look ahead. The Speaker wants to present this row as Tory men opposing any attempt to modernise the House of Commons.

Criticism of Carol Mills will be spun by him as evidence of misogyny and conservative reaction. He wants it to be seen as a battle between Labour women and Tory men.

Yesterday’s story in the Mail on Sunday undermines this cunning plan. The testimony of the clerk of the Australian Senate attacks the appointment on grounds of professionalism and experience.

Clerk Rosemary Laing wrote:

“We were utterly taken aback when we heard Carol Mills was front-runner to replace Sir Robert Rogers and have followed events with disbelief and dismay.

“It seems impossible someone without parliamentary knowledge and experience could be under consideration for such a role. It is bizarre and an affront.”

This is not a battle for female equality. This is a display of the Speaker’s increasingly erratic campaign against his ancestral enemies, the ones who snubbed and snobbed him in his youth.

Leave his pathology to one side.

Has he considered the effect of this appointment on Carol Mills herself?

She will have been lured out of her depth. Tempted out of her circumference. Brought in to operate in an intensely alien environment by the Speaker’s assurances, his guarantees and under his protection.

Australian women have particular qualities of gutsiness, plain speaking and focusing on outcomes, unconstrained by precedent and convention. She may survive this.

But if she fails, she will serve the Speaker’s purposes just as well. Her martyrdom will help the Speaker’s long war against his enemies.

He has destroyed the career of more than one official. And Carol Mills wouldn’t’t be the first woman to be properly damaged by him, either.



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