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Saturday, June 20, 2009

The next Speaker?

I confess that I am more than marginally less excited at the outcome of the election of the next Speaker of the House of Commons than I am at the prospect of the Lions winning the next test or Andy Murray winning Wimbledon. Nevertheless it is all happening on Monday and there are plenty of people chipping in with their two-pennies worth.

From what I can see the front runner is John Bercow, who despite being a possible closet socialist is actually a Conservative MP. He has the support of lots of Labour MPs but very few Conservatives. I also know of at least one Liberal Democrat who is going to vote for him despite the fact that one of her colleagues is running for the job and seems eminently suited to do it, so much so in fact that she broke a 19 month blogging sabbatical to tell us that Bercow is the man for her.

The prospect of John Bercow becoming Speaker has sent many Conservatives into a lather. Some of them such as Nadine Dorries are even telling tales about him and throwing around threats. Ms Dorries apparently dislikes the Buckinghamshire MP because he is 'elitist' and corrects the grammar of Conservative MPs from under his breath whilst in a sedentary position in the Commons chamber. Perhaps you are getting a sense of why I am losing the will to care who wins this race.

Ms. Dorries is mostly annoyed with John Bercow however because he ridiculed her rather sad attempt to amend the law on abortion. She says on her blog: I shall make my commitment to guarantee, by any means at my disposal, that should John Bercow become Speaker, I will do my best to make sure that it is one of the shortest served appointments in the grand, and glorious, history of that coveted chair. I am sure he is shaking in his boots.

By far the most unlikely candidacy however is that of Margaret Beckett, unlikely because it seems she might actually win it. Sandra Gidley sums up why the former Leader of the Labour Party would be a disaster in this role:

As a woman I would have loved to have felt able to vote for Margaret Beckett who has always been competent in her Ministerial roles. But, a reformer she is not. She voted against the Robin Cook reforms and has no recorded appetite for reforming Parliament for the better. She is almost seamlessly woven into the fabric of the place and this is why she has been gathering support from some of the Senior Labour Whips and the Tory old guard.

This morning's Times backs up that judgement. They report that Mrs Beckett was the only candidate who failed to respond to repeated requests from them to produce unredacted expenses. The other candidates agreed to hand over their unredacted expenses, although some said that they would not be able to do so until Monday, the day of the ballot for Speaker, for practical reasons.

The paper also reveals that Mrs Beckett’s candidacy appears to be gathering momentum. They say that they have learnt that Nick Brown, the Labour Chief Whip, was canvassing Tory MPs over whether she would have their support before she stepped down from the Government at the start of the month. She stands to pick up sizeable support from Tory MPs desperate to stop Bercow if she makes it to the last four, as well as considerable Labour votes.

Personally, I would be unhappy if we had a third successive Labour Speaker. I think that it would be unhealthy for one party to dominate a non-partisan post like this for so long, however I cannot bring myself to raise any enthusiasm for any of the Tories either. Rather predictably, if I had a vote I would cast it for Alan Beith, not least because as well as being a reformer and a good Liberal, he is also a Welsh speaker.
I personally believe that as the Speaker needs to keep both the Government and Oppositon in check, a Speaker should NOT be a member of either the government or the leading opposition party. Therefore if I had a vote for Speaker on Monday, I would support Sir Alan Beith as well.
Bercow a closet socialist? Have a look at Guido Fawkes' revelations about his Young Conservative escapades.
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