Ann Widdecombe joins Speaker race
Does the Tory MP realise race to become Speaker is not a panel game?
The decision of Labour veteran Margaret Beckett to stand for Speaker of the House of Commons, revealed exclusively by The First Post yesterday, has, as predicted, opened the floodgates. Ann Widdecombe, the 61-year-old novelist, broadcaster, dedicated Christian and Conservative backbencher has announced that she too will be running. And the growing list of candidates now includes the Tories' Sir Patrick Cormack and Labour's Parmjit Dhanda.
Widdecombe told the BBC that she thought she would "connect very well with the public" and that the polls made her "the runaway favourite with the public".
However, as a Westminster source told The First Post this morning: "I am not sure where Ann gets the idea that her popularity with the public has any bearing. The Speaker will be decided in a secret ballot of MPs. What they want to know is that whoever replaces Michael Martin can act fast to clean the place up. That will mean having the respect of a broad range of members."
The problem with Widdecombe, according to this source, is that she has a rather higher opinion of herself than many of her colleagues. She is still most famous in Westminster for her comment in 1997 when she said of Michael Howard, then running against William Hague for the Tory party leadership, that "there is something of the night about him". Howard has never shaken it off, being depicted by caricaturists as a vampire ever since.
While she may be known to the public as a newspaper agony aunt and panellist on shows like Have I Got News For You, her successes in Parliament are fewer. She served as a minister under John Major and in William Hague's shadow cabinet, but has been on the backbenches ever since Howard took the reins in 2001.
Most in Westminster now think the race for the Speaker's chair is now between Beckett and the young Tory maverick, John Bercow, who is not admired within his own party - he is described variously as "a martinet" and "an upstart"" and does not have David Cameron's backing - but is a popular choice among Labour whips and backbenchers.
Some believe Bercow is a genuinely strong candidate, who represents just the kind of break with tradition the House needs, but the majority of his Labour supporters would be making a cynical vote, giving the Tories a Speaker from their own party who few of them can get on with.
Bercow remains the bookmakers' favourite. The question is whether Beckett can put her own troubles over the expenses scandal behind her. After confirming The First Post's report of her candidacy yesterday, she admitted that her expenses claims were an issue. "Only time will tell," she said.
All the declared runners for Speaker will take part in hustings next week before a secret ballot on June 22. The full list of candidates at present is (in alphabetical order): Sir Alan Beith, Lib Dem; Margaret Beckett, Lab; John Bercow, Con; Sir Patrick Cormack, Con; Parmjit Dhanda, Lab; Frank Field, Lab; Sir Alan Haselhurst, Con; Sir Michael Lord, Con; Richard Shepherd, Con; Ann Widdecombe, Con; Sir George Young, Con. Still undecided is Sir Menzies Campbell, Lib Dem.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING
Benedict Brogan, Daily Telegraph: What Mr Bercow's colleagues really hate is this: he is a greaser. It is not the ideological flipping that has earned him such enmity; it is the oleaginous way that he has sucked up to the enemy for years, to the detriment of his own side."
Michael White, the Guardian: "Some Labour MPs are genuinely enthusiastic for Bercow, his energy, openness and drive. Others seek revenge for the ejection of Martin, hoping that Speaker Bercow will prove an unstable embarrassment for David Cameron's government."
Iain Dale, Iain Dale's diary: "Sir George Young would be an excellent Speaker but I just cannot believe that the House of Commons will stomach an Old Etonian Mayor of London, an Old Etonian PM and an Old Etonian Speaker. I'm not being Etonian-ist, but what would that say about our politics?" ·
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