The Whips, plots and the Speaker

I heard this morning that there is a Whips’ stitch up to ensure Margaret Beckett becomes Speaker. I have no idea what the Labour whips are doing, but as it is a secret ballot they will not succeed in making their MPs vote for someone they don’t want. I do know what the Conservative whips are doing.

No whip has aproached me to recommend a candidate or urge me to vote for X. There has been no ring round. I have asked several Conservative whips how they will be voting, as I am trying to understand the election so I can tell you more about it. Each has even refused to tell me how they personally will vote, under orders from their office not to be seen to be influencing the election in any way.

Last week I told you why I would not be voting for three of the candidates. This morning I have decided that Michael Lord and Patrick Cormack are unlikely to receive my support, because I have to start eliminating more. I will attend the session to learn more of the other 5.

I find the endless public comment that one candidiate should be chosen because she is “clean” on expenses quite bizarre. All MPs went along with an expenses scheme which was too generous and too laxly administered. All made claims under it. No Speaker candidate stands out by virtue of being a campaigner for expenses reform, or for being in the fortunate financial position where they did not claim expenses. We need to judge them on what contribution they will make to putting in a new system of expenses which the public will accept, and which is affordable in the new parlous financial circumstances of the public sector.

This morning on the radio Ms Harman, Leader of the House of Commons, has sought to remove the expenses issue from all the candidates, by saying that the government will legislate to put all expense issues outside the control of the House. It will use its majority to set up an independent body which settles the terms of the scheme and administers it, so that means a new Speaker will have no role if the government has its way.


  1. Mick Anderson
    June 22, 2009

    I’m not sure about your point that “All MPs went along with an expenses scheme which was too generous and too laxly administered”.

    The information about expenses has only recently come to light, and MPs who are inherently honest would not have considered these obscene claims could have been made. I have no reason to think that one MP would have known about the expenses claims of another before the service performed by the Telegraph.

    Perhaps an MP who did not take advantage of a lax and generous scheme should now be recognised for having proper self control. Yes, we should be able to expect that they have this level of probity, but in an environment where it appears that the majority have fallen by the wayside, the few good eggs should be treasured.

    I suspect that I would vote for Ann Widdicome if I had the opportunity, but as I only know half the candidates, that’s not a choice based on science. However, there is merit in choosing a short-term Speaker that the general public is comfortable with. Parliament’s biggest challenge is to begin to earn the trust of the Electorate, and she fulfils that criterion handsomely.

  2. alan jutson
    June 22, 2009


    You keep on saying that ALL MPs made claims under the System, which is correct, they had no choice, as this was the system in place.


    SOME had some moral thoughts and did not claim for everything, but used a degree of commonsense to obey the Spirit of the system.

    How can you expect those that USED and ABUSED the system to now be the representitive for those that did not.

    That is why Ann Widdecombe is so popular, its nothing to do with press popularity, its her Character.

    Yes if Press reports are to be believed, it will be another Labour stitch up, with Margaret Beckett voted in, which will be a real shame.

    I do not think I can imagine a worse candidate (well I can but they are not running) to represent the Speakership and Parluiament.

    Remember, this was the very MP who on Question time recently said the audience would simply not understand, and that she could not understand what all fuss was about on her expenses.

    Time I think to elect a new Speaker with every new Parliament, when the existing Speaker can put themselves up for re-election. If they are acceptable then they will be re-elected

    I really do wonder if Members of Parliament have learnt anything from the last few months.

    Clearly the Labour Government have not, and I am now wondering if anybody else has.

    Clearly you have the advantage of knowing what is going on in Westminster, we only have Press coverage, lets hope that you are right and MP’s do as you suggest, and vote with a consience for once.

    But I doubt many will, it will be the usual cardboard cut outs trooping through the doors on the instructions of the Whips.

    We wait and see.

    1. jean baker
      June 22, 2009

      Oh so true …… “BUT NOT ALL ABUSED IT”.

      Yet, still, the malice aforethought tainting of MP’s per se (designed to undermine the important role of MP’s in a democracy) continues ……

      Many believe it’s not by coincidence that the expense ‘sleaze’ occurred after Labour’s Ghurka defeat – thanks to democrat Joanna Lumley’s intelligence and tenacity – coupled with Labour’s disastrous poll ratings.

  3. Mike Stallard
    June 22, 2009

    Do you know what? It is a real privilege for this reader (I cannot speak for the others) to be kept in the loop like this.
    Thank you.

    1. Rob
      June 22, 2009

      I agree, it is indeed. Thanks for this blog, John.

  4. Jon
    June 22, 2009

    This seems a silly move by Labour whips, if Beckett wins then it will just look like a stitch up by Labour.

    I think it is easy as an outside to see the popularity of Ann. However, I can get frustrated by changes to my industry that prove popular in the press that I see as wrong.

  5. Pete
    June 22, 2009

    As only Sir Alan Beith, Sir Patrick Cormack and Parmjit Dhanda ruled out accepting the speakers pension, please make it one of those three!

  6. Brian Tomkinson
    June 22, 2009

    Labour MPs are saying that their whips are trying to garner support for Margaret Beckett. This is denied by Harriet Harman but why should those MPs lie about such a thing? Who would you believe? Further evidence that an interim appointment until the next general election is essential – Ann Widdecombe.

  7. Jon
    June 22, 2009

    Could this be a case of giving Labour more rope to hang itself (again) by electing Margaret Beckett.

    Whilst some candidates are not known, Margaret Beckett is known. What are the odds that the public will like any proposed reforms or action taken by next Aprl/June time? If the public don’t feel satisfied then that could play better for the opposition. They can’t blame the Speakers office, that would be blaming their own.

  8. Jon
    June 22, 2009

    Sir George Young seems like a nice man but having effectively a Knight of the Shire in that position at the moment won’t help the Conservatives. That is if we assume the reforms don’t go as far as the public would like. Who ever is the Speaker, if they opt for the status quo then that will hurt their party at the GE.

  9. Javelin
    June 22, 2009

    Oh Lord … Margret Becket … is that the best Parliament can come up with? Out of the frying pan into the fire.

  10. Adam Collyer
    June 22, 2009

    Most members of the public do not care who the next speaker will be. Probably a large number don’t even know what the “speaker” is. Most members of the public completely distrust politicians and their trust will not be restored by a new expenses system. The expenses row is just a lightening rod for public disquiet about the nature and role of our politicians.

    There’s an interesting article written by the Commissioner on Standards in Public Life in 2006, long before the expenses scandal began, here:

    The lack of common understanding between politicians and the people is actually neatly illustrated by this whole expenses row. MPs seem to think the people are upset because some of them claimed things that were against the rules. But actually the people are astonished by it all because they see MPs, on salaries of more than £60K, being allowed to claim expenses for running second homes. What’s more, the people have a strong suspicion that most of the MPs wouldn’t last five minutes if they had to earn a living outside politics. Many of them would probably be reduced to manning the supermarket checkout tills.

    How come it took Dan Hannan in the European parliament to articulate the public anger at the Prime Minister? Why is there nothing like that in the Commons? We are in the biggest crisis of my lifetime at least, and there is no anger expressed in the Commons, not even from Opposition MPs. This sorry government should be being absolutely taken apart by the Opposition, and it has not been thus far.

    1. jean baker
      June 22, 2009

      ” … biggest crisis of my lifetime at least …. ” Really ?? You must have had an extraordinarily sheltered existence.

      The Fees Office authorized expense claims it, according to the media, shouldn’t have.

      Meantime MEP’s expenses cost hardworking taxpayers five times the sums involved – more scandalous than, what appears to be, the fees office corrupted system.

      Fees office reportedly required receipts prior to authorization, five times costilier MEP’s are NOT required to provide receipts.

      “This sorry government” was taken apart at the local elections ….
      hence the media sleaze. Any sackings of fees office staff ? Of course not yet they’re responsible.

      1. Adam Collyer
        June 22, 2009

        I think the current financial/ economic crisis counts as the biggest crisis of my lifetime!

        True that the government were taken apart in the local elections by the voters, but I do believe the government have not been taken apart in the Commons as they deserved to have been.

        1. jean baker
          June 23, 2009

          It’s astounding that neither the media nor the Opposition attacked the (reportedly) improper function of the fees office.

      2. Nick
        June 23, 2009

        Fees office reportedly required receipts prior to authorization, five times costilier MEP’s are NOT required to provide receipts.


        For figures of less than 250 pounds they don’t. Three years ago I wrote to them, and they confirmed this. MPs are honourable they wrote back so we don’t audit them.

  11. Francis Irving
    June 22, 2009

    While Ann Widdecombe’s own expenses might be whiter than white, unfortunately she voted consistently to let others carry on hiding their expenses.

    Back in 2007, when MPs tried to amend the FOI act so their expenses wouldn’t be covered here is how she voted:

    1. alan jutson
      June 22, 2009


      Can only suggest she was voting on the basis of why are we bothering about this when there are other more important things (thinking of her own expense claims made) to be discussing.

      She appeared disgusted with what had gone on when she found out what others had done, and i guess she would not vote the same way if she had known at the time what some of her fellow MP’s were claiming for.

      1. alan jutson
        June 22, 2009

        OOPs !!!! should have read

        Why are we bothering about this (thinking of her own expense claims made) when there are more important things to be discussing.

  12. adam
    June 22, 2009

    some loony no mark got the job.

    this is far more interesting

  13. andy dan
    June 22, 2009

    I had hoped once, that Anne Widdicombe would lead the Conservative party. She has an endearing eccentricity, wit, intelligence and integrity. Unfortunately, being an unmarried woman hasn’t helped her much I suspect, as well as her opposition to hunting! She’d make an excellent interim Speaker though. Shame it can’t be more. The country is desperate for someone with her qualities at the top.

    Reply: Ann was never going to win the contest or get anywhere near winning. She did not have the support needed to chair committees, find agreement and persuade others to reform. Media images of people are not always accurate.

  14. Nick
    June 23, 2009

    All MPs went along with an expenses scheme which was too generous and too laxly administered


    You still don’t get it John, like lots of other MPs.

    No one gives one hoot what your rules are, or how they were admininstered.

    It’s the fact that MPs have broken the law. It’s that they have committed fraud, and that we haven’t had the police breaking doors down with search warrants. Instead they are waiting, afraid they are treading on toes, given time for expenses etc and evidence to be shredded.

    1. If you claim for PERSONAL tax advice on expenses, to be paid with public money, it fails the test of being wholly and necessary for your job as a MP. If you’ve signed an expenses form containing that statement, then you have committed fraud if you’ve received the money, and attempted fraud if you haven’t.

    The ‘rules’ are irrevant. The rules that matter is the law.


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