When Betty Boothroyd gave Speaker John Bercow a dressing down – Tom Richmond

IF only John Bercow had heeded the ‘dressing down’ that he received from Yorkshire’s very own Betty Boothroyd when he decided – on becoming Speaker – to dispense with the traditional robes, regalia and wig.

Betty Boothroyd was Britain's female Speaker.

She was not amused and, according to Bercow’s just-published memoir Unspeakable, made her views very clear when she visited Speaker’s House to offer some forthright advice of her own.

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Betty Boothroyd speaks her mind on politics, Yorkshire and making history

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The exchanges began badly when Bercow pointed out that Britain’s first female Speaker had in fact ‘abolished the wig’. An ear-wigging soon followed. “Looking taken aback, she replied that she had not abolished it but had merely decided ‘not to wear it’,” recalls Bercow in his tome. “This struck me as splitting hairs and, albeit politely, I said words to that effect. It was, I suggested, ‘a distinction without a difference’.”

Betty Boothroyd is a former Speaker of the House of Commons.

A brave approach as Boothroyd’s subsequent response nearly left Bercow speechless after he had decreed that the role of Speaker was more important than “the dress of the office-holder”.

“Not at all,” she is said to have declared before she began to tear Bercow off a proverbial strip by informing him how Speakers should behave. “I decided that I would prefer not to wear the wig and I asked the House for its agreement, which it gave. By contrast, you decided without consulting anyone not to wear it or any of the established uniform. It is most regrettable.”

The point is this in the light of Bercow’s often pointless pontificating, which became even more verbose towards the end of his Speakership, and then his handling of Brexit when he showed a willingness, perhaps motivated by personal views or revenge or both, to break convention.

The great Speakers – like Betty Boothroyd – recognised that they were servants of Parliament at all times. John Bercow, however, assumed with the arrogance that became his hallmark that Parliament was always in his service.

John Bercow dispensed with the Speaker's traditional attire when he was elected.

And he probably still does as he waits – in the hope – that myriad investigations into his conduct, staff relations and bullying allegations do not delay a peerage which he believes should be an entitlement, even if it means having to don ermine before being accepted into the House of Lords.

JOHN Bercow’s book reveals a grudging admiration for Shipley MP Philip Davies – and his adroit use of Parliamentary legislation to block laws proposed by fellow backbenchers. “A highly skilled MP,” he concedes.

But Bercow – like, in fairness, many others – was taken aback by the lacklustre statement that Haltemprice and Howden MP David Davis, the relatively new Brexit Secretary, made to MPs in September 2016 about preparations for the country’s exit from the EU.

“To the evident astonishment of Members across the House, he had nothing new or substantive to say,” wrote Bercow. “Decoded, Davis was merely reiterating the ‘Brexit means Brexit’ mantra...my sense was that MPs thought that he begged several questions. By what means did he expect to achieve it? And by when?

John Bercow, the former Speaker, has published his memoir.

“He said that he would be guided ‘by some clear principles’ but it was a stretch to call his statement a set of principles. Rather, it was an extraordinary banal and threadbare series of slogans and statements of the obvious that advanced understanding not one iota.”

It was a telling day. After 85 questions from backbenchers, Bercow was none the wiser. Nor, I suspect, was David Davis. Or Theresa May. Or Boris Johnson.

LOCAL authorities have one-time Leeds City Council leader Irwin Bellow to thank for the Government reimbursements, however parsimonious, that they receive after emergencies like floods.

Council leader from 1975-79, the Conservative politician took the name Lord Bellwin when he was elevated to the House of Lords, where he became a respected environment minister during Margaret Thatcher’s government.

The politician who piloted the right-to-buy legislation, based on a scheme he had pioneered in Leeds, he left office in 1984 – supposedly to spend more time on his local golf course – after being angered by Thatcher’s determination to get rid of the six big Labour-dominated metropolitan councils.

By that time he had paced the way for the so-called Bellwin scheme that – to this day – still allows councils, police, fire and national park authorities to apply for recompense from the Treasury if they spend over 0.2 per cent of their calculated annual revenue budget on repair work.

Yet, more than five years after a review was announced, no changes have been announced. Councils, like Calderdale, should not have to wait weeks to find out if they’re eligible for relief. The whole process needs to be far swifter so affected areas can receive the assistance that they so urgently need without Ministerial delay and dither doing a disservice to Lord Bellwin’s reputation.

AS Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps can expect to take 60 minutes of questions from MPs every four weeks when Parliament is sitting.

Yet, now the role of Northern Powerhouse Minister has been added to his brief as troubled rail operator Northern is renationalised this weekend, there appears – at this stage – insufficient scope for him to be held to account over regional policy. I trust this will be rectified faster than the time being taken to scrap the Pacer trains.

I DON’T understand the furore of Rishi Sunak, the new Chancellor, being pictured with a giant bag of Yorkshire Tea. A storm in a teacup. It would only have been worthy of comment if the Richmond MP favoured a rival brew...