Speaker’s Authority, Competence and Integrity Challenged

Last night, an advance in the Carol Mills story.

The House voted to set up a committee to consider the Governance of the House, including the role of the Clerk and chief executive.

Who thought procedure could be so exciting?

This is a decisive step forward. The remit is wider than expected. It allows, in theory, the source of yesterday’s Bully Bercow story to be called to give evidence.

“Governance of the House” includes control of the Speaker. When the Speaker is out of control, who controls him? That’s the essence of governance.

The Speaker’s bullying, abusive behaviour is within the remit of the committee. Allegations of committee-rigging, running candidates, planting questions, fixing appointments are all within the remit. How the dickens did he let that get through?

John Bercow will be pushing his candidates onto that committee as if his life depended on it (which it may do).

Mild-mannered Jesse Norman was so mild-mannered that only the Speaker will would have felt the full wallop of his words. They seemed quite innocuous at the time.

The record shows Norman describing the appointment process as “obviously flawed” and “seriously flawed”. That Carol Mills was “not qualified”, that she was recruited for a job “that did not then exist”, and that the letter of appointment was hurried out during the recess to avoid parliament’s attention.

Norman said: “Constitutionally, he and he alone has the capacity to withdraw that letter.” (Remember, the Speaker has on several occasions weaseled his way round that in points of order saying, “It is not for me” to recall the letter.)

It was a direct attack on the Speaker’s authority, competence and integrity.

It is impossible not to attack the process of the selection without attacking the Speaker. It was entirely his responsibility. The whole shambles is of his hand and of his making

There were many contributions, and the short debate is worth reading in full.

But it must be noted that Andrew Lansley is emerging from the shadows of the House of Commons Commission to defend himself.

He said: The Commission has the authority to cancel the current appointment process. It should do so now.”

He said: It is particularly regrettable that Mr Speaker sought expressly to water down the 2011 requirement in the job description that the Clerk should have “detailed knowledge of the procedures and practices of the House.”

Mr Speaker sought to replace “detailed knowledge” with “awareness”.

And: “I propose that the current appointment process be scrapped.”

John Bercow will have been watching from his sumptuous apartments in Speaker’s House. Noting names, brooding, trying to keep hold of his temper. His cause is far from lost. He’s still more likely to survive than not. But the odds are moving against him.




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