Wednesday 14 October 2009

Simon Hoggart on Lord Martin's introduction

In Today's Guardian Simon Hoggart wrote his parliamentary sketch. First he described the expenses row in the Commons - but he was in the Press Gallery for the start of Lord's business (I was a yard or so away so I can confirm that this is a first hand account) - he wrote:-

Yesterday, in one of the many magnificently ironic moments that have marked this gruesome affair, Michael Martin, the former Speaker who presided over the whole farrago and did his utmost to stop it coming under the public gaze, was promoted to glory, or at least to the House of Lords.

Normally, this is routine for any Speaker. But Mr Martin was the first Speaker to be forced out of office for more than 300 years. And the House of Lords Appointments Commission, which looks at all nominations for peerages, told Number 10 that his arrival might damage the House's reputation.

No matter. Gordon Brown waved the objections aside, like an unwanted bread roll. It's assumed that the peerage was part of the tempting package which persuaded Mr Martin to quit.

You might have thought, to misquote Groucho Marx, that he would not want to join any club that didn't want to have him as a member. But Mr Martin is clearly plated with the sheet metal he used to work, so yesterday afternoon we trooped in to see him, clad in scarlet and ermine robes, shuffling towards the table of the House to hear the ancient, time-encrusted words: "Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom … [the clerk somehow manages to pronounce the capital letters, which are used for every mention of Her Maj, rather like Jesus, or God] … know Ye that We of Our especial grace, certain knowledge and mere motion … do advance, create and prefer Our trusty and well-beloved Michael John Martin …"

On and on he went. "And also that he may enjoy all the rights, privileges, pre-eminences, immunities and advantages to the degree of Baron …

Now he was talking. Right, privileges, pre-eminences, immunities and advantages! That's the kind of language Michael Martin understands.

Perhaps it was his excitement at the prospect of all those immunities and advantages that caused him to forget to sign the register, or what was possibly the rental agreement for his clobber.

Meanwhile, Helene Hayman, the Lord Speaker who sits on the Woolsack, maintained a distant glare. This was not a facial expression that cried "welcome!" She seemed an unhappy bunny, right up to the moment when the new Baron Martin walked past her and she managed a smile that might have lasted all of two seconds.

There was a sort of cheer from some of the lords and ladies, but it was polite and formulaic, quieter than any cheer I can recall for a new peer.