Bernard Ingham and Betty Boothroyd ensured that democracy worked properly

0 17

Te county from Yorkshire, in the north of England, not only God himself, as most residents think. It is also home to a type of people who consider themselves tougher, warmer, more hard-working and bloodier than the average Brit, and this is often true. Perhaps Bernard Ingham and Betty Boothroyd, both from the industrial West Riding, came from the cast of central Yorkshire: she glamorous and loud, once described as a cross between a diva, a headmaster and a barmaid; he looked like the referee of a small town football match, with only his big eyes to keep him from the rain.

However, both continued the Yorkshire tradition of seeking fame and fortune in the soft south; and there, after patiently rising through the ranks, both created great political positions. Mr Ingham became, in 1979, Margaret Thatcher’s press officer, so – as his boss had no interest in presenting policy, dealing with the press or even reading the papers – was the leading exponent and defender of Thatcherism as it evolved. He stayed until his head hurt, and she said she could never do it without him. Miss Boothroyd was the first female Speaker of the House of Commons and the first to be elected since Parliament was regularly televised, serving from 1992 to 2000 and retaining her strong charges in better order than many men had managed.

Both understood – and they would be foolish not to, said Miss Boothroyd – that they were public actors. She started by saying “Call me Madam!” and rejects the Speaker’s traditional long wig for her very fine hair, to be comfortable. She designed her own dress, gold Tudor roses on navy silk, to look the part. In a voice made deep and beautiful by heath water and 20 a day, she cried: “Order! Order! The honorable gentleman will take his seat at once! Immediately! Immediately!” When members were wasting time she would joke, or keep to herself with her order paper, or, once, snap “Come on, Mr. —! Wipe it out!”

Mr. Ingham, too, was liable to anger. His volcanic soul regularly erupted on the phone or at the twice-daily briefings he gave to the lobby, the group of journalists who covered Parliament. Trick questions and attempted traps drove him mad. Conspiracy theories made him angry. They were “Bunkum and balderdash!” “Lots of rubbish!” or simply “Codswallop!” The slightest flicker of those eyes would send a jolt of fear through some commentators. But the crippling anger would subside soon enough, without bearing any complaint. He saved himself a lot of stress by insisting that all information given to the media went through him, not through random ministers and departments. Ministers complained about power grabs. He called it simple professionalism.

There was a lot of human sympathy behind these shows. Both actors knew what it was to struggle, whether they should make a point in Parliament or get a good story. Mr Ingham had been working since 16 on the Hebden Bridge Times and later Yorkshire Post, covering deathly funerals and savage agricultural displays, goes to porter for details of tragedy. Even at the Guard in the 1960s and 1970s he had felt unappreciated. Miss Boothroyd, once her ambitions rose beyond dancing with the Tiller Girls or window shopping, struggled with four sets until she succeeded in 1973 in West Bromwich. Electors and voters alike thought she had no chance, as a woman, if she wasn’t married, had children and was peeling potatoes every day. She never married, instead treating her constituents like family for 27 years.

Unemployment in a mill town had devastated them both. They experienced poverty, and were influenced by strong Labor politics from their garment worker parents. Both joined the Labor Youth League and ran for council seats. This political bug was like the miner’s coal dust under her nails, said Miss Boothroyd; you couldn’t tip it. That led her to campaign, in America for Kennedy and at home, and led Mr Ingham to gradually work his way through the civil service in Whitehall. At different times they both worked for Barbara Castle, a founder of mid-century Labor governments. But at the height of their careers they both accepted jobs that, at least on paper, demanded impartiality.

This was much more difficult for Mr Ingham. He was not a political appointee, but a career civil servant who now found himself expressing very determined Tory views. And he did the voice, reading Thatcher’s mind like a book. He explained it that way. First, she was his leader, to whom there was loyalty. Second, she was another spy, like him. Third, her love of country inspired him. He had also flirted with the trade unions, thinking that her economic plans were at least worth a try. Finally, it was time for the British to rediscover good old-fashioned personal responsibility. As people in Hebden Bridge said, they should “buckle to”.

He also set strict rules. To the lobby he offered facts, not spin. Spin, to him, was a black art. He controlled the flow of stories, as was sensible. But he did not analyze, comment or influence policy, and only occasionally did he drop something that undermined a minister, as Thatcher intended. Those who thought he was a Thatcherite, and many did, were wrong. His watchword was facts; for, in the House of Commons, the rules of parliament were for Miss Boothroyd. She was also accused of being a party lover, for Labour, when she was choosing what to call them. But all she wanted to do, in her favorite place in the world, was not to impose on that unruly group the code of practice laid down by Erskine May in 1844, with strictness on herself: no beating, no suitors, no harm. language. Between them, they kept democracy flowing smoothly.

When they retired the two were still leaders: she in private, raising her followers on the phone, and he in public, with increasingly intermediate columns in the Yorkshire Post and the Daily Express. His highest county was joy, which he raised in several books. In 2005 he included her in “Yorkshire Greats: The County’s Fifty Finest”. She was flattered that she was included among the few living subjects and only five women. She was less than happy, however, to find herself keeping company with Guy Fawkes.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.