Tom Richmond: A new Parliament must not be bound by the past

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WITH every likelihood of a hung parliament after the election – neither the Tories or Labour appear to be gaining significant momentum at present – it is important that the 650 MPs returned to Westminster are not hamstrung by the past.

It is why I have previously argued that the Fixed Term Parliament Act should be abolished before David Cameron goes to Buckingham Palace – the traditional precursor to any election. It was agreed out of political necessity in 2010 to ensure the coalition agreed between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats provided the stability that the country so desperately needed at a time of economic tumult.

Those now concurring with this view include the redoubtable Betty Boothroyd, the former Speaker of the House of Commons who spent her formative years growing up in these parts. She says the next government must make a fresh start and reflect the political challenges of 2015 rather than those of five years ago.

However I’d go further. I also think it is presumptuous of John Bercow, the current Speaker of the House of Commons, to assume that he can continue with this role – and associated perks and privileges – after polling day. It should be for the new intake of MPs to decide his fate rather than a desire on his part to hold down the role for two full Parliamentary terms.

This, after all, is the man who promised to clean up politics when he succeeded Michael Martin in the week of the expenses scandal which brought the work of MPs into so much disrepute.

Yet, six years on, the reputation of politicians has not been restored. Quite the opposite – Mr Bercow has allowed Prime Minister’s Questions to become even more farcical and the recent lobbying scandal that enveloped former foreign secretaries Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw only served to remind the public of the extent to which voters have become divorced from many of their elected representatives.

And it was epitomised by Mr Bercow’s pomposity last week when Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt made a statement on the number of hospital patients and staff who were sexually abused by the paedophile Jimmy Savile, and whose claims were ignored for years – decades in some instances.

After Mr Hunt spoke, Labour’s Andy Burnham responded with a number of allegations and points which the Health Secretary then attempted to answer before being interrupted by the Speaker who had become impatient.

His justification was that the sitting had started at 9.30am with culture questions and the exchanges on Savile were to be followed by sessions on BBC funding followed by backbench debates on epilepsy and compensation for the victims of the Equitable Life financial scandal. Proceedings concluded with brief debate on the Rotherham abuse scandal, all of which were completed by 5.30pm on the dot.

However I am afraid this showed the extent to which Mr Bercow is unsuited for his role. He is quite happy for MPs to filibuster in order to prevent legislation being passed, but he is not prepared for the betrayal of the Savile victims – to be aired in full because it might involve a bit of overtime on Parliament’s part.

If Speaker Bercow goes unchallenged for another five years, I am afraid there is every likelihood that the House of Commons will become increasingly irrelevant in the eyes of the voters. He has been warned.

THERE’S another change which I’d like to see introduced after the election – and that is for the next Education Secretary, irrespective of the outcome, to be a politician steeped in business.

If Britain is to continue prospering in the future, it is vital that schools equip youngsters to hold their own in a global economy.

This point is even more pertinent after School Reform Minister Nick Gibb said it “should be possible” for every pupil to learn a language of their choice because of advancements in technology.

I’m encouraged – language learning, whether it be traditional subjects like French and German, or the teaching of Spanish and Mandarin, is still in a state of flux after being marginalised by the last Labour government.

This is why I’d like to see the Department for Education and Skills headed by an individual with business acumen – party politics, and the pursuit of change for change’s sake, must not stand in the way of providing a curriculum that meets the needs and priorities of industry.

IN a candid interview ahead of his retirement from the Commons, David Blunkett explains how his blindness did, in fact, antagonise Gordon Brown because of his inability to read the then Chancellor’s facial expression.

“If you can’t see someone’s face, you do get the message eventually from body language and verbal messages, but it takes a bit more time,” explains the outgoing Sheffield MP, who rose to Home Secretary in Tony Blair’s government.

I accept this – but I do think Cabinet members had a duty to put Mr Blunkett in the picture. Unless, that is, they were more pre-occupied with the Blair-Brown feud which became so destabilising to the government and, ultimately, the country.

THE Rail Minister Claire Perry signalled the start of Virgin Rail and Stagecoach’s tenureship of the East Coast main line by declaring: “What we see today is the best of the private sector.” I’m afraid it will take more than a bright red livery on services linking Yorkshire with Scotland and London to assuage passengers. Given the punctuality and reliability records of both firms in this region, and the franchise’s financial history, I can only hope that the penalties will be severe if performance targets are not met. It is the least that travellers deserve.

SOME clarity please. I had thought seats on trains were for the use of fare-paying passengers. I didn’t realise, until travelling into Leeds last weekend, that they were, in fact, for people to leave their bags so they did not have to lower themselves and use the vestibules.

Perhaps the train guards should ask those who place their luggage on seats to pay a double fare – with proceeds going towards the purchase of new rolling stock to replace the antiquated Pacer trains which would not look out of place at York’s National Railway Museum.

MISFIRING bowler Stuart Broad tries to explain England’s flop at cricket’s World Cup by saying the team is too nice. He makes this profound point at a promotional event at a winery to publicise this summer’s Ashes clash with Australia. I don’t think so. I’m afraid the team is faltering because players like Broad have an over-inflated opinion of their own self-importance.