Gale's Christmas View
December 23rd 2023
It is almost exactly a year since I was, as the senior member of the Speaker`s Panel of Chairmen, invited to serve as a Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons to cover the temporary absence of the Chairman of Ways & Means. That brief was expected to last for a couple of months! Twelve months later I am still in harness and the House has extended my remit to next Easter.
The most frequently asked question that I face is “Do you enjoy the job”? An honour, certainly. A privilege to be a member of a small, intimate and discreet team that lies at the heart not of Government but of Parliamentary business. Sometimes demanding. Sometimes tiring, seldom boring. But enjoy? The camaraderie, yes. The challenges and requirement to exercise instant judgements, yes. But the restrictions? Frustrating.
The Members of the Speaker`s Team are required to be impeccably non-partisan and impartial. The Panel of Chairman, of which I am proud to have been a member since 1997, is not permitted to vote or express an opinion about the legislation over which we preside and, under no less than six Prime Ministers of various political persuasions in my time that in itself has not always been easy. Full-time members of the `home team`, though, are not permitted to speak in the Chamber, to vote or to speak to the media about other than local constituency matters.
That, for someone who has previously had a high parliamentary and media profile and a reputation for plain-speaking, has not always been easy. There have been many issues of national and international importance upon which I have been invited to comment during the past year and many occasions upon which I would have wished to have done so. Crudely, though, you cannot be ` a little bit pregnant`. You either take on the job, shackles and all, or in my view you cannot and should not do it.
I has expected a volume of “who is representing me in Parliament” criticism and I am gratified to have discovered that, with a couple of exceptions, my constituents have been kind enough to have recognised that there is a job that has to be done and that I am doing it.
The view from the Big Green Chair is enlightening! From the centre-ground in the heart of the Chamber of the House of Commons you get a very different vantage point and the opportunity to experience the performance of some six hundred and fifty Parliamentary colleagues from an alternative perspective. Over the last year I have, I hope, presided over the proceedings that I have been detailed to conduct without fear or favour. I have had the honour to announce the results of some crucial votes and I have been given the chance to develop a new respect and new friendships on both sides of the House. After some forty years I might have developed a degree of cynicism about the body politic bit it is refreshing to have been given the chance to re-affirm my belief that notwithstanding differences of politics and doctrine , most Members of Parliament are dedicated, hard-working, `in it for the right reasons` and genuinely committed to the service of those that they represent.
While a return to the Back Benches – at present scheduled for Easter 2024 – would relieve me of the present restrictions of the office that I occupy It has been a privilege to do the job and for as long as I am invited to do so I shall continue to – yes – enjoy it !
Finally, it would be remiss of me not to pay tribute to my friend and parliamentary neighbour Craig Mackinlay. Craig has, in the last couple of months, experienced a literally life-threatening illness and has undergone significant surgery. His strength of will and his determination to be there for his wife, his infant daughter and his constituents have pulled him through and it is a measure of the courage of the man that he intends to fight and win the new East Thanet seat at the next General Election. He deserves to do so.
From Suzy and myself, from our three children and their wives, our five grandchildren and our splendid team in the office, our very best wishes for Christmas. 2023 has, nationally and internationally, been challenging. May 2024 be better and more peaceful for us all.