Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Former speaker dies


I was very sorry to read that Lord Weatherill has died.
As Bernard ("Jack") Weatherill, he was not only a popular and effective Speaker of the House of Commons from 1983 to 1992 but also my local MP in Croydon, a seat he won in a by-election in 1963. My Grandparents campaigned for him in the 1970s and 80s, I remember them often sitting on polling stations taking numbers and the like.
After he retired, I met the great man at the House of Commons and had tea with him. As ever he was impeccably turned out and seemed to be relishing his role on the cross-benches. After a while John Major wondered over and I was surprised that Major, despite the obvious affection between them, addressed Weatherill as 'Sir', a convention that Prime-Ministers (and ex-Prime ministers) follow, apparently out of respect to the former Speaker's office.
Another little known fact was that he was a dedicated vegetarian, something of a curiosity in those days and something that caused a few awkward moments when he was attending political dinners.
As Speaker, it was during his tenure that the Commons was televised for the first time. I remember him chairing PMQs in his wig and thinking how he often let Kinnock get off the hook. In retrospect, I think I was viewing it all through rather partisan eyes. In any event, to be blunt, Thatcher still destroyed Kinnock twice a week anyway (and she was a huge beneficiary of the televising of parliament despite being opposed to it, at least initially). It seems that Thatcher herself was no great fan of Weatherill as Speaker, while according to The Guardian, he enjoyed easier relations with Major but I think history will record him as a man who was a great speaker, scrupulously fair and dedicated to the institution of parliament.
It will be doubtful that the same will be said about the current incumbent.


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