Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Come back LS Amery, we need you!

Those of you who watched the TV coverage of the House of Commons on Monday, or read accounts of the furor over the Speaker’s future in yesterday’s papers, may be wondering what the coded references to the Norway Debate were all about?

In my self-appointed role of political bore, let me enlighten you. The name Leo Stennett Amery would have been lost to history were it not for his extraordinary intervention in the House of Commons debate over the disastrous Norwegian campaign, undertaken by allied forces in the early stages of World War Two between April and June 1940. The intervention made his name and, arguably, changed the course of twentieth century history.

Amery did not rise to speak in the debate until the second day, the 8th May 1940, by which time he was intensely frustrated with the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain’s, feeble performance in justifying the Norwegian landings and, more importantly, the distinct lack of leadership in a national crisis. His speech was unremarkable, until the closing statement, which was delivered with a whiplash that has gone down in history. Invoking the words of Cromwell from three hundred years before, Amery, pointing directly at the Prime Minister, declared: “You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”

Amery’s intervention was later described by former Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, as the most powerful climax to a speech he had ever heard. It was crucial in convincing over 40 fellow Conservative MPs to vote against their own Conservative Government in a confidence motion, which led directly to Chamberlain’s removal and the succession of Winston Churchill. The rest, as they say, is history.

I spent yesterday with a group of journalists. Lunch conversation was dominated by MP’s expenses (I’ve never known an ice-breaker like it!). Phrases such as “let down” and “I don’t trust any of them” were freely used. MPs may think they have given the public some ‘blood’ in convincing the Speaker to go, in the name of God or, more likely, their own skins, but I doubt whether the public appetite for reform has been sated. Until more of them start acting like LS Amery, putting country before party and genuinely attempting to reform, without one eye on short-term political advantage, then public anger will not abate.

Oh yes, one last thing. There is another reason for remembering LS Amery today, he was MP for Birmingham Sparkbrook.


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