Speakers of the House never have it easy.
More than just sitting aloft in the most comfy chair in the hallowed of parliamentary chambers, listening and duly guiding proceedings, the robed and wigged men and women with the ultimate power in the House are largely expected to be who they aren’t, so measured in their use of parliamentary language as to sound and/or look like being equally fair to all.
In London’s Whitehall, from whence cometh all our Westminster parliamentary practices, the current Speaker of the House of Commons, Tom Berkow, is a politician who has been in that chair since 2009. He is also MP for Buckingham — and strong enough to reject Prime Minister Theresa May’s recent request to re-present a Brexit Bill he considered a waste of parliament’s time.
He also refused to invite President Donald Trump to address the UK parliament while visiting London earlier this month at the invitation of Prime Minister May and as a guest of The Queen.
The UK Speaker is fully respected by all MPs, whether they support him or not – and each, including the Prime Minister, is normally obliged, if only through the established decorum of British parliamentary practice, to always defer to his rulings.
Few UK Prime Ministers would be so awkward in their parliamentary parlance as to earn a deserved ruling-out by the Speaker, with or without a request for a withdrawal and/or apology.
But it’s quite a different pot of parliamentary fish for Caribbean Speakers, mostly appointed by Prime Ministers and nominated directly from the bosom of the winning party.
All previous Saint Lucia Speakers have left their mark or marks, each in his or her own way. But none is known to have made a Prime Minister feel uncomfortable on the House floor.
Indeed, none has seen his or her role as embarrassing the man in whose hands their future (in the post) ultimately lies, far less being seen as biting the hand that feeds them.
But Speaker Daniel has long been made to look like he’s ‘testing this prime minister’s patience.’
Not that he actually has said or done anything out of the way, but unusual he is seen as in the eyes of his political master(s).
Known by all where he stands in the realpolitik of the land, this Mr Speaker may very well have tried hard to show he can sometimes summon the gonads to do or say things – on the job — that his political kith and kin (in and out of the House) may not always like.
Like his ‘handling’ of the recent Opposition No Confidence Motion; and ‘allowing’ Castries South MP Guy Joseph to exit the House for refusing to bow to his ruling.
Speaker Daniel’s critics in the mainstream local media are insistent on portraying him as an out-of-control Lord of All He Surveys, virtually inviting the powers behind his throne to pull the red carpet from under his feet.
None of his critics have taken this Speaker to task for also riding smoothly along without a required Deputy, all naturally expecting agreeing to a ‘Lone Ranger’ role would have been part of whatever deal that demoted him in the parliamentary pecking order from the President of the Upper House (The Senate) to Speaker of the Lower House (The House of Assembly).
But anyone knowledgeable about the historical interconnections between Speakers and elective politics, or the intimate political history between this Speaker and the Dennery North constituency, should not even dare think of thinking that he will rock the ruling party’s boat too much – far less want to publicly embarrass the prime minister.
Especially at this time when the respective parties look like they will soon be scrambling for election candidates; and especially in those constituencies where candidates laying historical claim to candidacy have either evaporated or driven themselves beyond the boundaries of further consideration.
That this Prime Minister — as both PM and MP — decided to defy this Speaker is the real story here, as, what the leader of the Government side of the House virtually did was to challenge the Speaker to ‘Put me out — if you dare!’
You don’t have to be schooled in the basics or fundamentals of parliamentary principles and practice by Erskine & May to know that MPs are not expected to defy a Speaker; and when they do, there are penalties the Speaker can apply, if he or she so chooses.
Obviously, Speaker Daniel elected to accept this PM’s defiant rejection of his simple call for an apology for having used un-parliamentary language in the House.
Obviously aware too that he who appoints can also always disappoint, no Speaker in these cricketing Caribbean countries has found the balls to bowl-out any Prime Minister who has dared to so boldly step out of his crease, far less out of line.
So then, why expect this Speaker to? Just to show he can?
For all the above reasons: Methinks not!