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Wednesday, November 25, 1998 Published at 14:47 GMT

UK Politics

Queen's speech rebel owns up

By Political Correspondent Nick Assinder

There was great confusion about who shouted what during the Queen's speech in the Lords. Some believed it was Labour MPs and peers mumbling "hear, hear" when she announced the abolition of the hereditary peers' voting rights.

The Queen's Speech
Others claimed it was the hereditaries crying "shame" at the measure. And yet others say it was both.

The only thing everyone appeared agreed on was that the outburst was a disgraceful break with centuries of tradition and a direct insult to the Queen - well, the more pompous members of both houses did anyway.

But the truth can now finally be told.

[ image: Contention continues to surround Lords reform]
Contention continues to surround Lords reform
Labour hereditary Lord Gerry Monkswell - who lists his interests in Dod's parliamentary companion as "democracy" is happy, indeed proud, to identify himself as the man who started the whole incident.

He tells me that when the Queen read out the fateful sentence "a bill will be introduced to remove the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords", he couldn't help himself and started mumbling "hear, hear".

Other Labour peers and MPs took up the call until it grew almost into a chant.

But Tory and other peers took such exception to the outburst they turned on the Labour members with cries of "shame" for their effrontery.

Lord Monkswell comes from a line of rebels. His late father, the 4th Baron, disclaimed his peerage for life in 1964.

Gerry succeeded his father in 1984 but has previously earned a living as a van driver and lathe operator and is now an electrician.

He insists there is no rule or convention barring such a show of approval during the Queen's speech - so presumably we can expect to see more of this sort of thing in the future.

And that raises the appalling prospect of loyal Labour MPs greeting all Tony Blair's pronouncements from the Commons despatch box with rounds of applause.

Blair's babes or jelly babies?

The fiery former Labour MP Dr Oonagh McDonald - ousted from her Thurrock seat after 11 years by Tory Tim Janman in 1987 - suddenly showed up in the Strangers' bar in the Commons the other day in her new role as freelance consultant.

And she left the assembled company in little doubt about her views of the new intake of Labour women MPs.

[ image: Labour's women MPs are not universally admired]
Labour's women MPs are not universally admired
These are the people once notably described by backbencher Brian Sedgemore as the Stepford wives for their robotic like loyalty to their leader.

Dr McDonald is equally dismissive of them, but has her own pet name for them - she prefers to call them the jelly babies.

Something to do with backbones I guess.

Heard this one before?

The jelly babies were certainly left all a quiver at the splendidly un-PC speech by veteran backbencher Joe Ashton.

[ image: Joe Ashton: Veteran humour]
Joe Ashton: Veteran humour
The Bassetlaw MP - so fiercely working class he once took a bag of fish and chips into the infamous Annie's Bar in the Commons - had been chosen to open the Queen's speech debate in the Commons.

Traditionally, before the serious proceedings get under way, one old stager and one of the new intake are asked to make short, preferably funny speeches.

Mr Ashton certainly delivered the goods with a hilarious speech littered with references to women MPs.

According to Joe, the palace of Westminster now looks better and smells sweeter because of them.

He went on to claim that women spent much of their time buying curtains and tins of paint and brushes "for the old man to get on with doing the kitchen".

As women MPs quietly seethed one MP was overheard to whisper to a colleague: "listen to that - Grade 1 Listed Old Labour".

Old Labour, new consitutuency names

Mr Ashton also coined new nicknames for himself and veteran fellow Old Labour left wingers Dennis Skinner and Tony Benn, who represent neighbouring constituencies. Thanks to him they will forever now be known as Compo, Foggy and Clegg.

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