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.