Who do you want as Speaker?

I attended one of the hustings meetings, and have had conversations with several of the candidates. I would like to hear some views of what you think of the runners.

Some say the new Speaker should be without criticism on his or her expenses. That appears to be an unrealistic ambition, now that political opponents and other critics are commenting adversely on all MPs for one reason or another. The Telegraph has given their summary of the candidates expenses. According to the Times five of the ten candidates are paying sums back. (Alan Beith, John Bercow, Parmjit Dhanda, Alan Haslehurst and Richard Shepherd). I think it would be wrong to rule out Alan Haslehurst, for example, on the grounds of his expense claims as some have suggested. The truth is that all MPs supported or acquiesced in an expense system which was both too generous and too laxly administered, so it that we sense we are all collectively guilty of an important error of judgement which has done great damage to Parliament.

I myself will not be voting for Ann Widdecombe, because I do not want an interim Speaker who will only be around for less than a year. I think we need to make a decision about someone capable of chairing the Commons well and making a contribution to rebuilding its reputation, which will take longer than a few months.

Nor will I be voting for those candidates who want to take Parliament around the country, as Alan Beith and Parmjit Djhanda wish to do. Whilst I accept their view that we need to make Parliament more relevant and important to people, I think the best way to do that is to do the job of Parliament better. Trying to meet around the country will be costly and difficult. Just imagine the imposition of security on a city or town being visitied by Parliament. I doubt it would be very popular with those inconvenienced. There would be endless issues about how many staff could come, how the books and papers would be made available, and how the ceremonial valuables would be safeguarded. A fortune has been spent on adapting Westminster to modern technology and security, so let’s use it fully.

Some of my colleaguess will be voting tactically, at least on the first vote. If an MP knows who he or she does not want, and feels strongly about it, the PR system used for the voting encourages tactical votes to try to stop momentum for a disfavoured candidate by encouraging modest momentum for a rival. Instead of having a single open vote where the person with most votes wins, we will have a series of private ballots, where weaker candidates drop out until a candidate does get more than 50% of the vote.

MPs will remember the Parliamentary arithmetic. This is still a Labour dominated Parliament, so if Labour come to a unified view they will make the decision. It appears for the time being that members from both major parties are approaching the candidates correctly on their individual merits rather than in a tribal way. Let’s hope that remains true.

I suspect that the front runners are currently Margaret Beckett, George Young, and John Bercow. The contest seems to be wide open with no one candidate having a clear lead.

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32 Comments

  1. Josh
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    Sir Patrick Cormack would be my choice. I am on the right wing of the Conservative Party, and he is on the Left, but you can tell he absolutely adores parliament and its role as the centre of our democracy. If not him then it would be Sir Alan Haselhurst, because he reminds me of Betty Boothroyd; stern, powerful voice and authoritative.

  2. Graham Thomas
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    I am amazed that Margaret Beckett is a front runner for speaker. To my mind she is far too strongly linked to the present government, it’s policies and attitudes. Either George Young and John Bercow would be far better and more independent minded.

  3. Brigham
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    I, for one, would like to see Ann Widdecombe as the Speaker, precisely because she would only be in the job until the general election. Because of the momentous happenings at the moment, MPs expenses, unelected lords etc. running the country, and the most inept PM the country has ever had, the general election will be, probably, the most unusual we have had in modern times. If we have to wait another year for an election, I think it would give her time to sort out these (people -ed) at the Fees Office, so that Parliament could start with a relatively clean slate.
    With regard to moving Parliament around Britain, having seen how much it costs the EU to move on a regular basis, anyone proposing this is, in my opinion, too stupid to be in any position of power

    • jean baker
      Posted June 22, 2009 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

      Well said, I totally agree. Taxpayers have funded “a fortune spent on adapting Westminster to modern technology and security” and, as John says, “let’s use it fully” – for it’s true democratic purpose and function. This is the arena in which MP’s are paid to operate on behalf of the public.

      Roadshow ??!!! All additional encumbant costs – EXPENSES – funded, undoubtedly, by the taxpayer. ‘Celebrities’ do ‘roadshows’ to entertain the public for financial reward – no more no less.

      It seems Nulabor are confusing politics with ‘roadshow public entertainment’ – funded by taxpayers, over and above the current alarming ‘expense system’ the Fees Office operates – according to media hype, wide open to, and readily authorized ‘abuse’.

  4. alan jutson
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    I do not agree that an interim Speaker would be unsuitable.

    You have mentioned before that Labour are the majority party, and the Whips are getting behind their members to either get their candidate in, or make a spoiling vote for another (John Burcow).

    This Government is so discredited, that for them to have such a controlling influence over the Speakership for many years to come, seems to me to be rather corrupt (in political terms).

    I think Ann Widdecombe would be a good choice in the circumstances. An important transition stage of clearing the decks and purging the old system I think is needed, before another Speaker is elected and can make his/her mark.

    After the next General Election I do not think any Party will have such a large majority as we have now, so perhaps Party politics will be less of an influence. Aware that new members of Parliament may not be fully up to speed on the Qualities of all candidates, but the same argument applies to MP’s being elected by their constituants.

    Why does the Speaker have such a generous Pension arrangement, A full pension no matter how many years they serve. This is even more than Gold plated !!!!!

  5. A. Sedgwick
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    I have always been impressed with Alan Haslehurst and in the apparent absence of Frank Field and M.Campbell he seems head and shoulders above the rest. Your front runners would be dreadful.

  6. Ricardo's Ghost
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    This is an unusual Speaker election. Aside from the usual considerations about finding an MP with sufficient knowledge of the rules of the House to enforce them, and the authority and willingness to kick the House about a bit when it needs it (go on Youtube and watch Betty Boothroyd in action), there is also the pressing consideration of reform – whether you want it and what form you think it ought to take. The reform agenda will also take an MP with some authority to knock the heads together of the party leaders on the issue.

    For me the obvious candidate who fulfills all requirements is Ann Widdecombe: she has proven herself to be a doughty backbencher as well as a capable frontbencher; she has an established public profile, and plenty of authority as one of the characters of the House; and being an interim Speaker would force the pace of reform (which I think would simply grind to halt and fester if Brown and Harman have their way). More importantly Widdecombe sees reform as a strengthening of the backbenchers and returning them to their original role and powers. I understand the problem of an interim Speaker, but if reform is an important issue this time around maybe that’s a good thing: vote for a reformer now, and then once the reform has been put through, vote for a ‘normal’ Speaker under the usual criteria.

    My second choice would be Richard Shepherd – he seems to be the candidate with the best understanding of the House, and what is required to make it work most effectively – in large part for the backbenchers to stand up for themselves.

    As for the rest:
    Margaret Beckett – wouldn’t be bad as Speaker (could be surprisingly good), but I don’t think she’s the reform candidate and that combined with her expenses furore could be damaging.

    Sir George Young – probably the best of the ‘usual suspects’. A sensible compromise candidate.

    Sir Alan Haselhurst – would be a good Speaker, but I’m not sure he’d be capable of changing very much or driving through reform. Being singled out by the Telegraph is unlikely to help with the public either.

    Sir Patrick Cormack – clearly loves Parliament, but I’d worry that he’d look too old guard, and lack the authority to take on the party leaders.

    Sir Michael Lord – nice chap, but a danger of business as usual. His line about being an ex-rugby player means he can take knock leaders’ heads together doesn’t actually inspire confidence.

    John Bercow – leading proponent of bad reform (take Parliament out to the country, turn the Speaker into a media personality etc.). Lots of the stuff that ought to appeal to New Labour (they aren’t just screwing with the Tories when they vote for him) but very bad for Parliament.

    Parmjit Dhanda – Bercow squared. Likely to make bad decisions: Widdecombe pointed out that his solution to Ministers announcing policies in the media (not allow them to make a statement in the House) would infuriate MPs because they wouldn’t be able to question the Minister about the policy.

    Sir Alan Beith – wet flannel. No authority.

  7. eeyore
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    We’d be glad of your opinion, Mr Redwood, either before or after the election, on the difference made by taking the vote by secret ballot. When there is no pressure on MPs to act otherwise, could it be that they will simply vote according to conscience and judgement and, in Harry Truman’s phrase, “do right”? Or am I just too naive for words?

    I note you make no reference to the new Speaker’s need to command public as well as parliamentary respect. In the unique circumstances of this election, this cannot be a matter of indifference. A Speaker unable to explain and defend the House to the sovereign people will be unlikely to do much better than the very first Speaker, Peter de la Mare, who similarly failed with the then sovereign, Edward III, in 1376 – and wore out his days in prison for his pains.

  8. Robert Eve
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Please vote for anyone but Bercow.

    • jean baker
      Posted June 22, 2009 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      I second that …..

  9. SJB
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    Sir George Young. Educated at Eton and Oxford. It seems he only lost out in the 2000 election for Speaker because of his recent front bench experience in the Major government.

  10. figurewizard
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    By suggesting that Parliament should be taken round the country Alan Beith and Parmjit Djhanda have shown themselves to be so bereft of ideas that they have to fall back on a rehash of an old and failed gimmick that Brown’s adsvisor’s came up with a year or so ago. It was to hold cabinet meetings in different parts of the UK. This bright idea was intended to be a manifestation of how open and ‘democratic’ a Labour government was, (i.e. not really an ill informed bunch of control freaks) at a time when the collapse of their standing in the polls had become clear. As with so many of Brown’s clunking initiatives however it was soon discarded.

    Therefore any Labour MP, with the sole exception of Frank Field, or Kate Hoey, should she have chosen to stand should be regarded as inherently unsuited to the job of Speaker at such an important time.

  11. Neil Craig
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Not Beckett who once referred to herself as a “Labour hack” which does not seem to be a suitable qualification. I would tend to go for Widdicombe & can see an “interim” Speaker as having advantages but take your point. Beyond that I don’t know enough but think it should be somebody independent minded who really intends to do something not just another shop steward.

  12. Humpty-Dumpty
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    ‘Some say the new Speaker should be without criticism on his or her expenses. That appears to be an unrealistic ambition’

    Erm, no, Ann Widdecombe – an absolute expense saint and acknowledged as such by the DT.

  13. Richard
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    I think you are wrong not to want an interim speaker. Why should this Parliament, 50% of whose members may change at the election, elect the new speaker who will sit for 10 or more years? You remind us that this Parliament is Labour dominated & point out that many Conservatives will vote tactically. It must therefore be best to have an interim speaker now and elect a permanent speaker without this partisan nonsense after the election. If it becomes clear to the public that the new speaker has been elected due to calculations of party political game-playing the reputation of Parliament will take another nose-dive.

    • alan jutson
      Posted June 20, 2009 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      Richard
      Exactly my point, but my comments still awaiting moderation.

      Let Ann Widdecomb clear and purge the decks, ready for a new Speaker and a new start.

  14. Lola
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    Ideally I want the best candidate to win. But I have absolutely no idea who that is because I have no personal knowledge of any of them. For elections from small constituencies it is, or should be, very easy for each candidate to be well known by the voters. Hence I feel that MP’s are in the best place to make the best judgement as for whom to vote. So over to you Mr Redwood.

    But, in my naivety I am making the wild assumption that MP’s will actually for once note vote tribally, but properly for the best candidate. So the question is, how likely is that?

  15. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    I think that Ann Widdecombe as an interim candidate is exactly what is needed. This parliament has lost trust and credibility. A new Speaker should be elected after the general election when many discredited MPs will have been replaced. It would be wrong to have a long term Speaker selected by the current MPs who anyway seem to be playing party politics, if newspaper reports are to be believed.

  16. adge
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    I also believe an interim speaker is what parliament needs through these uncertain times. Trust, needs to be gained back by the nation and until we have had the election, which everybody is waiting for, a long term speaker chosen at the moment is not going to gain trust for any party nor the public, so, in my opinion the only candidate that could bring some sort of control over this uncertainty is A Widdecombe who herself would have nothing to gain and nothing to lose but start to bring some sort of reality and control back to Parliament to which I am sure she could, and would.

  17. wonderfulforhisage
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    Mr R. you write:

    “I myself will not be voting for Ann Widdecombe, because I do not want an interim Speaker who will only be around for less than a year.”

    I would argue the exactly opposite. My mother used to say “Marry in haste – repent at leisure” and I would apply her wisdon to the currnt position vis a vis the election of a Speaker. MPs and the public are pretty hot under the collar at the moment and it’s not the time to take a long term decision. Elect Anne W. as an interim and when the dust has settled elect her replacement for the long term.

  18. Liz
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    It is up to MPs to acture in a mature manner to try and restore Parliament’s tarnished reputation by choosing the best person for the job – this mean a no no to John Bercow and Margaret Beckett. You know the candidates best, John, so vote on that basis. Personally I would go for an interim Speaker, i.e Ann Widdecombe so that the new Parliament next year can choose their own man/woman. Dragging Parliament round the country – as per the EU would result in huge expense. What we need is a place where England can pass its own laws as the Welsh and Scotsdo, without them interfering – the democratic deficit needs to be addressed or people will stop voting altogether – never mind who the Speaker is.

  19. APL
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    JR: “I myself will not be voting for Ann Widdecombe, because I do not want an interim Speaker who will only be around for less than a year.”

    An interim Speaker seems to me to be a good idea. The newly elected Speaker should stay until after the general election and the new Parliament should elect the next Speaker.

    It seems like Widdecombe is just the person.

    JR: ” Beckett ”

    OMG, I do hope not.

  20. Mark
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps Ann Widdecombe could be persuaded to stand again and take the Chiltern Hundreds in a year’s time if there is an early election: that would provide sufficient time to re-establish proper running of the House both in the way in which business is conducted and in the other areas where the Speaker has responsibility, such as Fees Office, Sarjeant-at-Arms and security.

  21. Mike Stallard
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    Isn’t the new speaker dragged to the chair? I believe if you look hard at the film, you can see Mr Martin actually running towards his new (well paid position -ed).
    Frank Field is a fine MP.
    He does not want to be speaker.
    He even wrote an article in the paper today saying that he wanted Anne Widdecombe to be it.
    What better qualification could there be than that?

  22. Graham Doll
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    Electing the popular and beyond reproach Anne Widdecombe would do most to restore the nation’s trust in Parliament.

  23. Colin Adkins
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    Having initially been against Ann Widicombe, I am persuaded by the huge merit of someone of proven integrity to steer the difficult period between now and the general election.
    She may in any case decide to stand again when she can be judged by her performance in the role.
    It’s also ashame that Frank Field does not appearto have any chance.
    Definitely not Bercow.

  24. Dave t
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    Beckett is only standing to keep her seat as she is in danger after her arrogant performances lately of being unseated! Bercow is a Tory in name only.

  25. Simon
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    No one who has been on the fiddle or voted in favour of exempting MP’s from the FOI Act should even be considered. I think that leaves 2. 20% of the contenders may be honest. Says it all doesn’t it?

  26. Michael
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    John Bercow is the man – independent minded, state educated,against ID cards when the Tories were in favour of them,experienced in chairing committees and the only Tory who can attract Labour votes and so therefore the only Tory who can win. Labour MPs wont vote for an old Etonian so the choice is Bercow or Beckett. Its an easy choice surely for Bercow…

  27. james harries
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

    Shame you’re not in the running yourself. None of the candidates appeal to me.

  28. WitteringsFromWitney
    Posted June 21, 2009 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Mr. Redwood,

    For what it is worth, since you have asked, is that an interim speaker such as Ann W would be best, in view of the ‘tainted’ electorate, which as someone said, quite a few of whom will not be returning to Parliament. Failing which, the Speaker should be re-elected by the new Parliament.

    Should it happen that the new Speaker only serves one year, then the ‘perks’ should not be claimable!

    I also believe that none of the candidates are worthy to hold office, in view of their ‘involvement’ in the exenses furore, purely on the basis that I do not think any claims other than rent/mortgage/utility bills should have been claimed and definitely not food! However if one must pick then Sir Alan H.

  29. Mike Paterson
    Posted June 21, 2009 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    I am surprised and disappointed that you of all people are suggesting that slightly tainted candidates may be acceptable. It just goes to prove following the “redacted” expenses report that MPs, almost all MPs, including now yourself, just don’t get it. There is (or should be) a Ceasar’s wife imperative to the Speakership: he or she must be beyond reproach.

    The problem is the elephant not in the room, namely the People’s Speaker (if I may), Frank Field, is not on the list. With the wholly-justified defenestration of Speaker Martin, thinks are moving a little to fast for my liking and rather than repenting at leisure, the idea of having Ann Widdecombe as a stop-gap Speaker strikes me as being extremely wise.

    So, disagree with you totally on two counts on this occasion.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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