Monday, June 15, 2009

A New Speaker - But Please, Not Becket!

The candidates for the vacant Speaker's chair, and grace and favour house in Westminster, held their hustings today. Outsiders like ourselves will never be the best judges of who can best manage the House of Commons, something we apparently have in common with the MPs who are doing the voting. Nevertheless, with a secret ballot in place, helping to avoid undue whipping influences, and the experience of the awful Michael Martin era, to say nothing of recent chastening events, here's hoping they might have a stab at getting it right.

The candidates are not, to the outside eye, greatly inspiring, but perhaps that's not the point. I just hope they don't go for the dreadful Margaret Becket. Look carefully through the record of her speeches over the past decade or so and you will see not a mention of commitment to Commons reform. She's been a minister, not a backbencher, for much of that time, and even had a brief period as Labour leader. Her recent performance on the BBC's Question Time saw her heckled for attempting to defend her use of a grace and favour house while claiming for a second home, and there is the distinct whiff of her going for this job because she didn't get the government promotion she wanted in the reshuffle. There is unlikely to be a worse candidate.

Good possibilities would be Ann Widdecombe, committed to being a interim Speaker until the next election, when a new Commons can focus on a more long-term choice. Widdecombe could be more effective in ten months than mot of the other candidates would be in ten years. Alternatively, the thoughtful, and hugely knowledgeable on parliamentary matters, John Bercow. Bercow has one further thing in his favour - most of the existing Tory MPs apparently can't stand him.

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