Espiner on Mallard vs Lockwood

June 29th, 2009 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Colin Espiner blogs on Mallard vs Lockwood:

Initially Mallard seemed to be suggesting taking a motion of no-confidence in the Speaker, but later said on his blog that Labour would “wait for a better case”.

I think he and his colleagues need to draw a deep breath and wait for a considerably better case.

Lockwood Smith is the best thing to happen to Opposition parties since Question Time was invented. He is easily the most fair, unbiased, and straightforward Speaker Parliament has had in years.

High praise.

In sports parlance, he’s a ref who plays advantage and isn’t always on the whistle. When Mallard took a frankly pathetic point of order yesterday to complain that Key wasn’t addressing the chair when he was speaking, but had his back to him, Smith shut him down quick-smart, saying he was more interested in what the Prime Minister was saying than how he was standing.

That’s what I like about Lockwood Smith. He doesn’t suffer foolish or pedantic points of order. He’s all but stamped out the tabling of press releases. He requires ministers to answer, not just address the question. And he doesn’t yell “order” every five seconds for some minor transgression.

For years people have used the ability to seek leave to table a document as a method of scoring an additional point. You would say something like “I seek leave to table the Minister’s press release of xx in which he says how poor people should move house”. Lockwood has no power to refuse to seek leave on behalf of a member, but often reminds the MP seaking leave to table such a document that the Standing Orders Committee has noted this is an abuse of standing orders as you should only seek leave to table a document MPs do not alreay have access to.

This has massively reduced such frivolous tablings, which means more time for actual questions and law making.

Overall, Labour should thank its lucky stars Lockwood Smith is the Speaker and quit moaning.

As a result, I think Parliament is a much more smooth-running and frankly democratic place.

Smith has thrown out far fewer MPs so far than his predecessor Margaret Wilson, and it was always odds-on that Mallard would be the one to finally go.

Colin is assuming that the Labour Opposition are glad to have a Speaker that has made Ministers more accountable and increased the public regard for Parliament.

I am not so sure that is a wise assumption. I would go further and suggest many in Labour hate the fact Lockwood is regarded so well by the gallery and those in the public who follow Parliament. Don’t think that Labour welcomed the changes Lockwood introduced. It was not only National Ministers who protested them. Senior Labour MPs on several occasions asked Lockwood to reconsider his new interpretation that Ministers must answer the question if it is a clear primary question with a potential factual response.

Hunt and Wilson were amongst the most partisan and well connected Labour MPs. They were tribal Labour. Imagine how galling it must be to senior Labour MPs to have even some of their own supporters talking about how great Lockwood is doing and by comparison how bad Wilson and Hunt were?

Those senior Labour MPs will also know that Lockwood’s forcing Ministers to answer questions will (ironically) actually help the Government as the sight of arrogant Ministers being asked “How many unemployed people are there” and refusing to actually give an answer is part of what creates the impression of time to go.

Finally the fact it is Lockwood that has proven so popular as Speaker will also chafe some in Labour. They opposed his nomination, and he has always been a target for certain Labour MPs.

So I think Labour are going to actively look for opportunities to try and attack Lockwood, and possible even no confidence him. They, I suspect, would be more than happy to go back to the old days, if they can.

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