By tradition the first speech of a new Parliamentary session is made by a seasoned back bencher from the governing party. At the start of this session the honour of being that old codger fell to me. The Queen’s Speech came a year after the referendum and a few weeks after terrorist attacks in Manchester and London, and a few days after the horror of the Grenfell Tower fire. In that context I dispensed with the usual jokes that should lace such a speech and concentrated on how Parliament should raise its game to the momentous time in which we live.
Reading it today it sounds breathtakingly naïve. “The country expects our debates and arguments to be robust, but there is room for consensus too. At times like this, we should reflect on Jo Cox’s words about there being more that unites us than divides us.”
Since that speech Parliament has been locked in a titanic struggle with the Government. Far from finding consensus, politicians seek the opposite often for ideological or electoral purposes. Even the Liberal Democrats have lurched off on a Brexit extreme. And then there is the constitutional crisis. Following the Supreme Court ruling, I had hoped the Prime Minister would know that the House of Commons is a great place to be won over with a bit of charm, some humility and self-deprecating wit. All of which he has in spades. As it was, he came out like a snarling cornered lion lashing out in a way that had many of us with our heads in our hands. It was agony to witness. He was followed by Jeremy Corbyn who again failed to rise to the occasion. If ever there was a time when a Leader of the Opposition could have appeared like a Prime Minister in waiting this was it.
In 2017 I ended my speech with words that depress me so much to read today. When you consider what has happened in the intervening two and a half years the words sound so appallingly innocent, but they were uttered by someone at the time imbued by a romantic sense of purpose. By someone who was at the time relishing being in Parliament at such a seismic moment. I said, “I want to look back at this time and say that I was part of a Parliament that rose to the challenge and, with a great unity of purpose, helped to ensure that Britain successfully reset its relationship with its European neighbours. We can all agree this is a great national endeavour.”
Along with twenty of my colleagues, I now sit without the Conservative Party whip looking at a soulless Parliament that has none of that sense of noble purpose about it. My party seems to have become the property of a reckless group of chancers whilst the Labour party has been taken over by a cabal of far-left extremists bent on driving out many people whom I respect profoundly. If this sounds bleak it’s because it is so.