It is a long time since anyone in the House of Commons has asked me to resign. For the past 13 years, there has of course been little for me to resign from. (Being Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee in the last Parliament was a job I would gladly have resigned from, if only there had been some pressure to remove me). Before that, in the 1990’s, there were periodic cries of “Resign” when I spoke in the House, as I delivered my party’s election commitment to privatise the railways.
In my present job, as Leader of the House, I seek to avoid too much controversy, though if provoked, I can be as partisan as the next man.
But after a month in the job, I distinctly heard a member opposite call for my resignation, though the remark did not make it into the Official Record. I take the view that it was not meant seriously – and indeed it was an attempt at a joke that got me into trouble.
Humour can lighten the mood in the House. Once, when the House was crowded, a lady member came in, and, finding that there was nowhere to sit, sat on a male member’s lap. This provoked a point of order to Mr Speaker, who was asked whether this was parliamentary conduct. The Speaker, George Thomas, rose from the chair and declared that, as he was a bachelor, he didn’t understand these things. End of problem.
When I introduced a Bill to licence London’s minicabs, I was interrupted by an MP who had recently been a taxi driver. I gave way to him, saying it was a pleasure to be flagged down by a taxi driver, instead of the reverse. And, when he then made a very long speech with many detours, I asked him if he thought his meter was ticking.
Every Thursday, I now answer questions for up to an hour. It is the B movie that follows the A movie on Wednesday, starring the Prime Minister. As long as an MP asks for a debate about it, I can be asked any question about anything. It is like a pub quiz, but without the refreshment and the assistance of a team.
The question that provoked the call was about wind turbines. One of my colleagues asked for a debate about wind turbines, having made it clear that he favoured a more restrictive regime so that fewer would be built in his constituency. I took the view that these sessions lacked humour so I replied that, having listened to my honourable friend on the subject of wind turbines, I concluded he was not a fan.
Some members were charitable and laughed; but I distinctly heard from the benches opposite the call we all fear. “Resign”. So, no more jokes at Business Questions.