THANK you Hilary Benn for doing us all a favour this week – and exposing Tory grandee Sir Bill Cash as little more than a Brexit bully who has lost the plot.
I refer to the House of Commons exchanges when Sir Bill, a veteran Brexiteer, said it was an “abomination” that a cross-party alliance of MPs and peers headed by Yvette Cooper was seizing control of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union.
After Sir Bill’s full-scale finger-jabbing rant, Mr Benn – the Leeds Central MP and chair of the Brexit Select Committee – rose to his feet and, in his quietly understated way, made a withering intervention.
If this is “a constitutional revolution”, he said with gentle force, “it is a constitutional revolution courtesy of the democratic will” of both Houses of Parliament.
Not only did it make a mockery of the desire of Leave supporters to ‘take back control’, but it also revealed how prominent Brexiteers – including members of the European Research Group – had no plan of action after winning the June 2016 referendum.
For, after condemning these developments as a “constitutional violation”, a trenchant Sir Bill then turned on his colleagues as he went redder in the face than a Labour rosette and declared: “As I said the other day, Oliver Cromwell came to this House in the mid-1650s in circumstances in which the House of Commons had turned itself into a rabble.
“He was so furious with it that he said ‘You have sat too long for any good you have been doing’. That was an accusation. Cromwell continued ‘Depart, I say…In the name of God, go!’
“As far as I am concerned, that applies to many Members of Parliament who have reversed their votes and who have repudiated the vote of the British people and denied our democracy.”
Sorry, but it is dinosaur-like figures like Sir Bill who should be following Cromwell’s advice. For it is their unyielding refusal to compromise over their desire for a hard Brexit – the one scenario that commands no definitive majority – which has exacerbated this crisis. And the regret is that it took Theresa May so long to realise that nothing she could agree was ever going to be acceptable to her Brexit extremists.
UNLIKE Sir Bill Cash who has no time for Theresa May, the PM received a more sympathetic appraisal from Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves when she launched her latest book Women Of Westminster.
“I have got respect for her and what she is doing, but I disagree fundamentally with the deal she is securing,” said the author. “There are a lot of things Theresa May has done around matters do with the family, human trafficking and domestic violence. David Cameron got credit for modernising the Tory party, but Theresa May was modernising before David Cameron was on the scene.”
Speaking about her political career, Ms Reeves said her greatest success was her cross-party work on combating loneliness and the benefits derived from working with MPs from other parties. If only Sir Bill could see the light...
A DELIGhTFUL vignette from Rachel Reeves about the occasion Barbara Castle, then a Cabinet minister, asked Betty Boothroyd, her Parliamentary aide, to summon “the make-up lady” before a public appearance. The future Speaker queried this by replying: “It’s a radio interview, Barbara.”
FORCED to apologise to the Commons as recently as last December for being late declaring supplementary income from newspaper columns and book royalties, Boris Johnson was found guilty this week of not registering a 20 per cent share in the ownership of a Somerset property within the specified 28-day period.
The former Foreign Secretary blamed carelessness. Yet the frequency of such omissions points to poor organisation that does not deserve to inspire confidence in any leadership bid.
EVEN though Scarborough has its own university campus, there is still a sense – after this month’s alarming House of Lords report on the state of coastal communities – that the wider value of higher education is still under-estimated.
This much was made clear in a letter to The Times by Professor Ian Fribbance, a leading academic with the Open University, who disclosed: “There has been a 27 per cent decline in the number of people in coastal constituencies accessing higher education since the 2012 funding reforms.”
Though the Scarborough and Whitby MP Robert Goodwill is making a favourable impression as the new Farming and Fisheries Minister, I have long argued – and continue to do so – that there needs to be a sharper focus on the rural economy at Defra. Perhaps he could persuade his boss Michael Gove to remove the Brexit blinkers for just one minute and learn this lesson.
MANY politicians could learn from the humility shown by Davy Russell, the wily old jockey who rode Tiger Roll to a second successive Grand National win.
Russell, who began his professional career in North Yorkshire with my great friend Ferdy Murphy, was famously summonsed for a “cup of tea” with his boss Michael O’Leary on New Year’s Eve 2013, when he was told that his services were no longer required.
He did not complain. He kept his own counsel – and let his riding do the talking. When his successor Bryan Cooper, a young upstart, fell out of favour, Gigginstown House Stud supremo O’Leary – who also runs an airline called Ryanair – turned to Russell.
And when Tiger Roll became the first dual National winner since the legendary Red Rum, an elated O’Leary told me: “Davy won’t be coming for any more cups of tea. What a man.”