This week saw the Memorial Service at St. Margaret’s Church Westminster for the Life of Baroness Betty Boothroyd, the former Speaker of the House of Commons.
Betty became known not just in UK but across the world with television, as a fine and independent Speaker whose voice, mannerisms and control of business and personalities in Parliament were widely admired.
I well recall the very first vote I attended when first elected to the House of Commons in 1992. In many ways it was clear that it was the ‘turn’ of the Labour Party to produce a Speaker, but the Conservative Party who had been returned to Office with a small majority put forward one or two other possibilities. I listened to the speeches from the late Peter Brooke, a Conservative choice, and from Betty Boothroyd herself. I think I knew at the time that Betty would make an admirable Speaker. Yet as a new and young MP, who had made 5 promises to my constituents who had elected me in a highly local result, that I would need the support of the government of the day to deliver. Looking back, whilst I did deliver on all those promises, it did not take long for my feeling of ‘wanting to vote for Betty’ and being delighted she won, to turn to wishing I had done so. I had my own mind even at that age, but I was still a ‘Party loyalist’. Fortunately sufficient longer serving Tories voted with other Parties to give her a majority.
Betty quickly made sure that backbenchers in particular would be invited in numbers to Speaker’s House in the evenings, not least to entertain her, but to bring people together. She was very kind to me and to my family in the years following my departure from the Commons at the 1997 election in the Labour landslide victory.
Those speaking at her Memorial Service spoke good humouredly of her determination to achieve for Parliament and for others; her desire when she had decided on something that she was not prepared to take “No” for an answer!
My abiding memory of her will always be highly personal. As a woman in those days she had needed to fight very hard to enter the Commons and even when Speaker playing a neutral role, she never lost her fire for helping to rectify injustice. Fighting injustice was a cause I shared with her. She was a fine woman and lady.