PARLIAMENT, politics and public life would have been poorer if a young Betty Boothroyd had followed her father’s advice and worked in the rates department of a town hall. He simply did not want his daughter to be unemployed, she told The Yorkshire Post in a rare interview in 2017 to mark the 25th anniversary of her election as Speaker of the House of Commons.
The esteem in which the Dewsbury-born daughter of textile workers is still held can be measured on her 90th birthday by the sincerity and warmth of the tributes from former prime ministers Sir John Major and Tony Blair for the first – and still only – woman to occupy this historic and famous seat.
The fact that both men went out of their way to pen personal reflections for this newspaper – their respective contributions are written from the heart – speak volumes about this Yorkshire heroine and her journey, from humble upbringings, to the seat of authority.
Yes, there were occasions when they will have disagreed with her arbitration – Speaker Boothroyd presided Parliament throughout the rancorous ratification of the Maastricht Treaty when the televising of Commons proceedings was still a relatively new phenomenon.
But they never lost their respect for the Speaker – and she never lost her humour or belief that Ministers should be accountable, first and foremost, to democratically-elected MPs.
And whilst Brexit would have tested Baroness Boothroyd’s patience – she lamented in January that “Parliament is convulsed” and “Whitehall is pulverised” while “industry and business are alarmed and our friends and allies are bewildered” – she never allowed the independence, impartiality and integrity of the Speaker to be called into question. It is a fitting legacy to a political pioneer who will always be regarded and respected as the ultimate Speaker – and ‘our Betty’.