To which a frustrated, divided Britain might well sigh, “Good luck with that, mate!”
The current Parliament, paralyzed by Brexit, is being dissolved. Six weeks of tough campaigning loom before a Dec. 12 general election. And the future of Brexit — the source of so much of the rancor — remains as foggy as ever.
John Bercow, the carnival barker of “Order! Order!” and the master of the polysyllabic put-down, retired as speaker last week after a decade overseeing debate in the chamber.
The new speaker is Lindsay Hoyle, a long-serving Labour Party lawmaker and a former deputy speaker.
Hoyle is likely to be a rule-
taker, not a rule-breaker. He speaks with a broad Lancashire accent, making it a little hard for an American to get every word.
He has a pet tortoise — and a pet Rottweiler.
Upon his election, Hoyle indicated that one of his first orders of the day was to restore Parliament’s stature. “We’ve got to make sure that the tarnish is polished away, that the respect and tolerance that we expect from everyone who works in here will be shown,” he said.
Hoyle is no sharp-tongued Bercow, but the chamber didn’t seem to mind, erupting in a roaring ascension of “Aye!” at his selection.
Perhaps a little dose of dull might be just what the chamber needs at this turbulent hour.
Hoyle is likely to play a pivotal role in setting the parameters of the Brexit debate when a new Parliament gets to work next month after the snap election.
Hoyle was elected from a field of seven candidates.
What the contenders said Monday in the chamber was revealing.
They all promised to make the House of Commons a less toxic space. Several suggested that they would provide mental health services for members and staff — and more police escorts.
And they all acknowledged that serving in Parliament had become far less appealing in 2019 — with members subjected to torrents of abuse on social media and the streets.
At least 60 lawmakers have announced they are retiring early, driven out by the constant name-calling, tweeted outrage and death threats.
“These are difficult, even dangerous times for our parliamentary democracy,” said Harriet Harman, a losing contender from the Labour Party.
“Too often this chamber descends into shouting and abuse; relations between this house and the government are broken; many of us work under a hail of threats of violence — to us, to our families, to our staff,” she said.
Meg Hillier, another Labour lawmaker whose hopes for the speakership were dashed, said danger lurks not only outside the Palace of Westminster but also within the crumbling World Heritage site. “Bullying and harassment still permeate Parliament,” she said.
Hillier said all the staffers at Westminster know there are “good lists” of lawmakers to work for and “a bad list.” She described “fearful and tearful” staffers afraid to confront bully bosses.
Each candidate was given a few minutes to make a speech. None praised Bercow, whom Prime Minister Boris Johnson once accused of performing more as a “player” in parliamentary contests than an “umpire.”
On Monday, Johnson praised Hoyle’s “signature kindness and reasonableness.”
The seven contenders for speaker all promised to turn the page, to move things along more briskly, to be more fair and to recede into the background.
“I would be a speaker who speaks less,” Hillier pledged. “I would not seek self-publicity.”
“The speaker is not the ruler of the House of Commons but its servant,” Eleanor Laing, a Conservative candidate, said to hurrahs.
“The speaker should be a dignified and quiet voice,” said Edward Leigh, another Tory contender.
“I want to return to the rule book,” said Chris Bryant, suggesting that Bercow — who gave the little guy in the Commons a big megaphone and upended age-old tradition — had thrown it out.
Bryant observed, “Politics can be cruel, and politics has felt especially cruel in the last few years.”
“I want to stop all the clapping,” he added.
At which, a naughty chamber broke into a round of clapping. (Clapping is against parliamentary decorum. Instead of clapping, lawmakers are supposed to wave their white order papers, like they do in the Churchill movies.)
Hoyle told the London Times a few days ago that if elected “his first act would be to call in the party leaders for a summit aimed at taking the ‘nastiness’ out of politics and putting an end to the Commons ‘bear pit.’ ”