Leonard Cohen on his bankruptcy tour sang whole concerts on one knee, hand extended to the audience. He really needed the money.
So it was with John Bercow yesterday evening. He knelt. He extended his palm to the Commons. “I am in the hands of and ready to be guided by the House.” He really needed the support.
How well he plays that great organ of democracy!
“My responsibility is to hear and heed them,” he said of its members.
They just didn’t have the heart to give the kneeling supplicant a jolly good beating.
That will happen – and it is still more likely to happen than not – today, the day after and next week.
It is still more likely than not he will lose the Speakership.
Jesse Norman asked gently whether he was going to withdraw the letter of appointment. He was told, “It isn’t for me to withdraw a letter but for the panel.”
Is it? Is it for the Panel? Wasn’t the Panel’s function to advise the Speaker? Whose name was on the letter of recommendation – the Panel’s or the Speaker’s?
Will a pre-appointment hearing for Carol Mills examine the murky appointment process run by the Speaker?
Investigators will be interested how the Speaker got what he wanted in the appointment of his Chaplain in 2010.
An eye-witness to the events spoke to Guido today and disclosed the following.
A Speaker has no formal role in the selection of the Speaker’s Chaplain, it is a Church appointment with two roles – one in the Commons, the other across the road in the Abbey.
John Bercow insisted that half the short list of six be female. He pre-determined the winning candidate would be female. “A female is going to do that job. It has to be a female,” he is quoted as saying.
Although he had no right, he insisted on speaking to all the candidates himself.
He rang up the selection board and lobbied them.
He continued to operate in the general election period when he had no official standing as an MP.
Considering Margaret Hodge’s titles – Protector of the Public Purse, Scourge of the Quangocracy, Chair of the Public Accounts committee – you have to wonder what she was doing agreeing to Carol Mills’ appointment.
As Guido reported, Carol Mills’ delinquencies and profligacies would have earned her the withering criticism of Hodge’s PAC.
Every Parliament, Mills replaced the entire Australian parliamentary crockery stock at a cost of $80,000.
She couldn’t cut $400,000 out of the pool and gym budget so she took it out of security.
She refurbished her office at a cost of $1m.
She presided over criminal misappropriations without informing the police.
But these are mere hors d’ouevres prior to the 500-course feast that the Senate inquiry into her department will serve up when it gets underway.
Who Ms Mills’ referees were, and whether Mrs Hodge gave them due diligence is something that will doubtless emerge as events grind them out. Saxton Bampfylde (sic) the head hunters will also need to explain how they weren’t to blame for anything.
But finally – and most obvious of all, to someone of Hodge’s experience, Ms Mills discourse gives her away. She talks in the obscene Esperanto that international bureaucrats use to bamboozle politicians
” . . . we established a fostering inclusion and respect framework to guide the implementation of measures to promote ethical behaviour across all levels of DPS.”
Hodge on committee would insist on that sort of rubbish being translated into English.
So what was she up to?
If anyone could be counted on to vote against an Old Etonian, it would have been the former leader of Islington Council at its institutional looniest.
Guido suspects that would have been her primary qualification for what Bercow wanted.
Remember, Bercow’s main purpose in this comically unprofessional fiasco was to diminish the standing of the Clerk, to eliminate other interpretations of parliamentary procedure. That way he’d enjoy ever-greater freedom for his princely rule.
That power-mania is what underlies the whole shambles.
The retreating Speaker is now offering to split Robert Rogers’ role (which he always wanted) but have the new administrative position answer to the Clerk (which he never wanted).
This is a disaster for John Bercow – to save his job he has significantly strengthened the Clerk and created an alternative power base backstage.
But this isn’t the end, or even the beginning of the end.
The current legal and procedural shambles is the end of the beginning.
Carol Mills will be doing half the job at twice the salary. At the moment she still has the grace and favour grandeur of 3 Parliament St.
This is clearly untenable.
The process needs to start again.
Without the need for procedural knowledge a multitude of candidates will present themselves for one of the most prestigious jobs in the public service.
Carol Mills’ employment lawyer is going to make a fortune.
The House feels it is being bounced into accepting a split role of Clerk and chief executive. MPs are complaining.
They feel that the split, if desirable, needs thought.
Whether the chief executive should answer to the Clerk of the House or to the Speaker is one important consideration.
The remedy is in their hands.
If the Backbench Business committee grants a debate with a votable Motion – and the Motion is carried – then the decision will be implemented forthwith. It is House business.
The Motion would say something along the lines of . . . A pre-appointment process should enquire into the splitting of the roles of Clerk and chief executive of the Commons in the first place and only once that principle has been established should the candidacy of Carol Mills for Clerk and chief executive be subject to a pre-appointment hearing with the power to reject her.
It needs a clerk to write the Motion, obviously. Someone who knows what they are doing.
“Bercow appears to have won his battle for an outsider to run the Commons,” the Guardian’s political editor tweets.
No, no. The battle is very far from won.
Questions around the selection of Australian Carol Mills as Clerk of the House are multiplying.
Did John Bercow fly to the e-democracy conference in South Korea this May to meet her? Is it proper for the chair of the selection panel to meet candidates privately? Did he give her information that would help her in the interview process?
Were there other irregularities in the interview process?
Was the fact that Carol Mills is the subject of an Australian parliamentary inquiry (for covert surveillance of staff and parliamentarians) disclosed to the selection panel?
Why was Margaret Hodge put on the panel? What is her relationship with the senior clerk David Natzler? Was she chosen because she was not favourably disposed towards him owing to a prior dispute?
Where is the letter nominating Carol Mills? It went to Downing Street a week ago. Has it gone to the Queen?
Sir Robert’s resignation takes effect at the end of this month. What happens if the nomination is not confirmed before the Commons returns at the beginning of September, will Natzler, as the highest-ranking clerk fill the role?
Who will be sitting in the Clerk’s chair when the Commons reconvenes?
It’s not a done deal yet.
PS: Will Carol Mills get a work visa? There are other able women who are British citizens who are better qualified for the job. Will she get the visa in time? Has the visa application been conducted properly, without undue influence from the Speaker’s office?