Andrew Neil’s guest on this week’s Straight Talk (BBC News Channel – Saturday at 0430 and 2230 and Sunday at 0130, 1530 and 2330) is former Speaker Baroness Boothroyd. There is a delicious anecdote about the time Boothroyd invited herself round to Bercow’s flat and advised him on several weighty matters, but I’ll leave you to discover what was said.
With characteristic independence, Boothroyd set herself firmly against the decision to impose, presuming the election doesn’t alter the social make-up of Commons’ membership, quotas on parties to increase the number of women and ethnic minority MPs.
Andrew Neil: If this General Election doesn’t make a major change in the number of women on both sides of the House, do we need to go to positive discrimination?
Betty Boothroyd: I’m totally against positive discrimination. I think you would have expected me to say that. I am more concerned with merit and with ability than whether you’re a woman or whether you’re a man, or whether you’ve got a black skin or what ethnic grouping you come from. It seems to me that we’re throwing merit and ability sometimes out of the window in order to try and get what you call positive discrimination some way or other.
Betty is bang right. By all means increase the number of women and ethnic minority MPs, but imposition is incompatible with democracy. Membership of the House of Commons should be achieved through merit not accident of birth, a principle that applies as much to graduates of Slough Comp as it does to Etonians.