By Paul Goodman
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I look into my glass,
And view my wasting skin,
And say, "Would God it came to pass
My heart had shrunk as thin!
The words in a speech that move most deeply, more often than not, aren't actually deployed in it. They are: I was there. Lords Jopling, Wakeham, Fowler, Waddington and Tebbit have spoken in the Lords, as has Lady Williams from the Liberal Democrat benches. My old boss Lord King of Bridgwater is there, and has spoken, too; Lord Howe was present, but has apparently left. Lord Heseltine is absent. But in that other sense, he was there.
By Jonathan Isaby
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Yesterday saw the first day of a two-day debate in the House of Lords on the Government's recently published proposals for introducing a predominantly elected second chamber.
Over 100 peers are due to speak in the debate over the two days and yesterday a number of senior Tories - including many former Cabinet ministers - contributed to the discussion with more than note of scepticism.
Here's a flavour of the debate...
Lord St John of Fawsley
"The beginning of wisdom is to leave well alone. What on earth is this House doing spending two precious days debating an issue that has no interest outside the Westminster village and for which there is no demand in this country at a time when we are facing a domestic crisis of major proportions? We have problems with the health service-the mind boggles at how we are going to get through that-and a world economic crisis. What kind of a world are we living in when we give priority to this subject which, however interesting to the few, is of no major importance?"
Lord Lawson of Blaby
"Understandably, most people of ability are disinclined to enter the overexposed hurly-burly of electoral politics. Some of us have been sufficiently mad to do so, but there is a limited supply of such mad men and women. The best of those few who are prepared to take the plunge will rightly seek to enter the House of Commons, where political power overwhelmingly resides, at least in principle, on whose support the Government of the day depend and from whose Benches high government offices are filled. There may also be some men and women of ability who, recognising the importance that the institutions of the European Union now play in our national life, may be attracted to membership of the European Parliament. In Scotland and Wales, the devolved Assemblies offer another possibility of a worthwhile and high-profile role. Even local government in England provides a greater opportunity to influence real events on the ground than does membership of the second Chamber at Westminster. That is the reality.
The Guardian reports that Hansard - marking their centenary as the official record of Parliamentary proceedings - have published a book of the greatest parliamentary speeches of the last hundred years.
Senior figures have been asked to identify their favourite speech of the 1909 - 2009 period. Rather surprisingly, the achingly partisan Gordon Brown has chosen Sir Edward Heath's speech against the reintroduction of hanging. David Cameron selected a speech by Duff Cooper (to whom he is distantly related) opposing appeasement in 1938.
Ken Clarke, Lord Heseltine and Sir John Major all chose Geoffrey (Lord) Howe's call for Margaret (Lady) Thatcher to resign.
Ann Widdecombe and Denis (now Lord) Healey were both courageous enough to choose a speech by Enoch Powell. Miss Widdecombe's preferred speech argued against embryonic research, while Lord Healey picked Brigadier Powell's 1959 excoriation of British brutality at the Hola camp in Kenya at the time of the Mau Mau emergency. Lord Healey concludes that Enoch Powell was "far from being the racist bigot".
In keeping with flagrant disregard for political correctness, David Blunkett singled out Oswald Mosley's speech on the economic crisis in 1930!
Most amusingly of all, Dennis Skinner felt that the most noteworthy piece of parliamentary oratory of the last one hundred years came from the member for Bolsover - one Dennis Skinner - in a filibuster against opponents of stem cell research. It's a curious phenomenon that this national treasure can do such a good impression of an insubstantial, boorish egomaniac.
What speech would you choose?
Lord Howe of Aberavon, better known as Geoffrey Howe, spoke in the House of Lords yesterday about foreign affairs. Here are some highlights from his speech:
"I start with a word about defence. We have long been accustomed, in government or out of it, to being able to fulfil our central objective, which is the availability of first-rate, world-class strategically mobile conventional forces. We have seen that displayed from the Iranian embassy in London to the Falkland Islands and the Gulf War. Today, however, despite the sustained, wholehearted commitment of our forces to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, one gets the increasing
impression of repeated delays and inadequacies of equipment in almost every direction. Sadly, that is accompanied, as my noble friend pointed out, by a decline in morale and even, indeed, reputation, which is largely undeserved. The whole of this was summed up by an Economist headline the other day: “Overstretched, overwhelmed and over there”.
In today’s complex world there can be no doubt about the huge importance of having a high-quality Diplomatic Service, for which we are traditionally renowned. French Foreign Secretaries have constantly said that our Diplomatic Service is “second only to our own”. I have heard similar tributes paid to our Diplomatic Service by Chinese Foreign Ministers with whom I have negotiated. This House is filled with noble Lords who are lively exhibits in support of my proposition. However, there is no doubt now about the erosion, as a result of pressure from the Treasury, of that quality. In short, there can be no doubt that there is an imbalance between the underresourced Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the much larger DfID budget. That imbalance is quite literally crippling our diplomatic efforts. I say that without being insensitive to the importance of the DfID budget, which was well spelt out by the noble Baroness, Lady Amos. However, the slogan “Making Poverty History” attaches a magic to that half of the equation, leading to an imbalance that inhibits our capacity in other respects."
I wonder if the front bench will welcome Lord Howe's call for greater spending. Regardless, he has more than earned the right to have his say.
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