A parrot called Boris and the future of the House of Commons
By Judith Mora
London, Oct 22 (efe-epa).- In the wake of the international fame garnered by John Bercow and his thunderous calls to order, his successor as Speaker of the House of Commons Sir Lindsay Hoyle is bringing a more conciliatory approach to the role, as well as an eccentric litter of pets, led by Boris the parrot that, much like the British prime minister, “is always repeating himself and talks a lot.”
Ahead of Sir Lindsay’s first anniversary in the job on 4 November, the former deputy speaker takes stock of his achievements against the backdrop of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic in an exclusive interview with Efe, in which he was joined by his wife Catherine, his cat Patrick and, of course, Boris.
Hoyle admits that the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union, which was formally triggered on 31 January this year, “took a big toll on MPs”.
“The anger, the hatred, the division amongst families. That had a real impact on people,” he says.
That is why one of his main goals in his new role as Speaker of the House has been to foster a healthier, less hostile environment in the chamber by clamping down an entrenched culture of bullying and safeguarding MPs emotional health and wellbeing, something that his menagerie of eccentric pets has provided him with in his own life.
Each of the animals is named in honor of titans of British politics, based on their characteristics.
Boris the parrot has “ruffled feathers” and “talks a lot”, “so he really did fit into the role” of prime minister Boris Johnson, according to Hoyle.
While Maine Coon feline Patrick, who “thinks he’s a very posh cat”, emulates the “grand” conservative Lord Patrick Cormack.
The late cat Dennis paid tribute to veteran MP Dennis Skinner and the 57-pound Rottweiler Gordon was named in honor of former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown.
Betty the dog “is tenacious and lets nothing go by” just like the only female Speaker of the Commons Betty Boothroyd and Maggie the tortoise, who because of her “hard shell” and the fact that she, too, is “not for turning,” is “a natural Margaret Thatcher”.
The animals often travel with Hoyle to Westminster from his home in Chorley, Lancashire — a constituency he has represented since 1997 — although the former MP has had to renounce his Labour party allegiances since taking up the neutral post of speaker.
“They are part of the family,” Hoyle says in the living room of the London apartment, a temporary home while his official residence at Westminster is renovated.
“I don’t think Patrick would forgive me if I said ‘you’re not coming to London’, and the same with Boris — he thinks he belongs in London.”
MODERNIZING AMID THE PANDEMIC
Since taking up the position, Hoyle, a man with a reputation for being fair and affable, has transformed how the lower house functions, facilitating remote connections for MPs during the pandemic and for the first time in centuries using digital instead of manual, in-person voting, an approach that has remained largely unchanged since the 14th century.
“Now we can vote with the security pass that we use to open doors (…) the voting pass works very well, it allows to vote in a quick and efficient way and that I believe will be staying with us,” he says, although he insists that while “modernizing is always good if it’s for the right reasons, (…) history is important as well. So it’s about getting the balance right.”
When he replaced the controversial Bercow — who increasingly saw his unorthodox and confrontational style called into question during the often contentious Brexit debates — Hoyle wanted to “have a nicer Parliament”, to remove the anger and “downright nastiness” that had come to be associated with the chamber.
“I wanted for us to be more tolerant of each other, there might be political differences but it doesn’t mean you have to be rude or intimidating.”