A few weeks ago I wrote about the issues with First Past the Post. FPTP has a lot to answer for, but for me the biggest failing is a complete inability to hold the Prime Minister to account. In a system where a majority government has absolute power, checks and balances are vital. The UK has very few of these. e. The judiciary has some power if the government breaks the law, and the Queen theoretically could displace the PM, but that is about it. But what about the Speaker of the House, Sir Lindsay Hoyle?
Lindsay Hoyle gets a lot of stick for letting this government get away with murder. But how much of that is his fault? Is he just enforcing the rules of a broken system or is there more he could do? In my view, it’s a bit of both.
What is Lindsay Hoyle’s job?
The Speaker is essentially responsible for maintaining order in the House of Commons. His authority in the House is paramount, even over the Prime Minister, but he must remain non-partisan. The Speaker, in essence, presides over debate and as part of this role, he has the power to punish members who break House rules. The House of Commons runs on a set of strict rules, some of which are ridiculous. You can read the full list for yourself, but the main area of controversy relates to the idea of “unparliamentary language”.
Under this rule, insulting language is not allowed – although this is determined at the discretion of the Speaker. For example, it is unparliamentary to call someone a “blackguard”. But it is not unparliamentary, apparently, for Boris Johnson to lie about Keir Starmer protecting Jimmy Saville. It is also unparliamentary to accuse another member of lying. Even if they have lied, there is proof they have lied and everyone knows they have lied.
Breaching either of these rules will lead to the speaker demanding that the statement is withdrawn immediately. Failure to do so will result in dismissal from Parliament for a day. Ian Blackford was recently on the wrong side of this rule after, rightfully, pointing out that Boris Johnson had lied to the House.
Why is “Unparliamentary Language” so serious?
Parliament was built on the idea that “Members are honourable and are expected to behave honourably”. Impugning a members reputation was tantamount to seeking their expulsion from the house. This carries over into the current day. Sadly, for a system so built on “honour” there are essentially no mechanisms to kick out a “dishonourable” Prime Minister.
The Nolan Principles and the Ministerial Code both have honesty at their heart. Historically, any breach of the Code would lead to a members resignation, but Johnson couldn’t give a s**t about convention. He ripped that up in 2020 when Priti Patel was found to have breached the code and he simply said “no she didn’t”. This shows that adherence to any code is, essentially, voluntary.
So are Lindsay Hoyle’s hands tied? No. He still wields enormous power in the house. In my view, accusing a fellow member of facilitating the most prolific paedophile in history is about as Unparliamentary as it comes. Lindsay Hoyle would have been well within his rights to demand that Johnson withdraw the outrageous slander. Instead, he gave a mealy mouthed rebuke… after Keir Starmer was subject to death threats.
Boris Johnson hurls insults at Keir Starmer on a weekly basis and is allowed to get away with it. He has also let him get off the hook with ignoring his warnings repeatedly. He claims he is in charge, but Boris Johnson treats him with utter contempt. Whilst he may not be able to stop Britain’s biggest liar from lying, he needs to stop being a doormat.