Speaker vote: another sorry mess
The Mole: Today’s election of a new Speaker will not restore public confidence, says our Westminster insider
The forced removal of Speaker Michael Martin and the election of a new face to the job was supposed to be a great symbol of how the Commons was ready to reform itself in the wake of the expenses crisis. What we have actually seen is the same old spin, whipping and manipulation being used by the major parties to try to shoehorn their favoured candidate into the job.
The way the Speaker is elected may have changed - it all happens in one afternoon with a series of eliminating secret ballots - but nothing else has. And even before the new person has taken the chair there are claims he or she will only be there because of party stitch-ups, or "the same old stale corruption" as Labour MP Stephen Pound has described it.
And none of the 10 candidates has emerged from the expenses row untainted. The leading contenders are Labour's Margaret Beckett, who spent almost £11,000 of taxpayers' money on gardening, Tory John Bercow, who 'flipped' his second home, and Tory Sir George Young, who claimed the maximum second homes allowance available for two years running.
In the early stages of the campaign it was widely expected that Bercow would get the job because Labour appeared to favour him, so they could claim they were being fair and giving the other side a chance, but also for exactly the same reason the Tories were dead against him - because of his rapid move to the left and persistent rumours he was ready to cross the floor and join Labour.
Then, as revealed exclusively by The First Post on June 10, Labour's former Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett joined the contest and it is now being claimed the party whips are using all their usual arm-twisting and "persuasion" to stitch-up the contest for her in the belief Bercow can't win it.
The Tories, meanwhile, are apparently also urging a vote for Beckett, but only in order to knock Bercow out in an early round of voting after which the order from the whips would be to back a Tory, most likely Old Etonian Young.
If that all sounds too clever by half, then it probably is. This is, for the first time, a secret ballot, so whatever promises the party whips receive from their MPs and whatever threats they use to force individuals to vote the right way, they will never actually know who voted for whom.
The most likely outcome then is another deeply-flawed election with the real danger being that a candidate will be chosen on the basis of who they are not rather than who they are and, therefore, not commanding the support of the whole Commons. In other words, a re-run of the processes that put Michael Martin into the job.
And if the party leaders think that is the way to restore public confidence in the political process then they are likely to be disappointed. Watch this space. ·
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