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Beckett and Bercow would be wrong choices for Speaker

The House of Commons chooses a Speaker today and there is a real danger that its choice will confirm suspicions that Labour MPs are playing politics with this important constitutional role.  In my view the worst two choices would be Margaret Beckett or John Bercow.

Margaret Beckett is the bookmakers' favourite.  She is the only candidate for Speaker who refuses to back reduced patronage for the whips and no wonder; her whole candidacy is an operation by Labour Chief Whip Nick Brown.  Her recent performance on Question Time at the height of the expenses row suggests she would be a poor public representative of the Commons.  Her own expense claims are far from 'clean'.

Bercow Speaking My colleague Jonathan Isaby backs John Bercow.  I cannot.  There are many reasons why all but three Conservative MPs have rejected the MP for Buckingham's candidacy but I distance myself from some of the bile aimed in his direction.  Ben Rogers was correct, yesterday, to remind us of some of Bercow's genuine achievements.  But he has so little support among Tories that he lacks that basic cross-party mandate that all Speakers need.  The fact that he was a Labour placeman blighted Michael Martin's candidacy from the start.  If Bercow wins he will be the third Labour Speaker in a row and that isn't healthy.  Although a good debater he is not a winsome character and that won't be good for Parliament's interaction wioth voters.

I have no strong views on the other candidates although am tempted by Melanie Phillips' case for Ann Widdecombe:

"The great advantage she has over all the other candidates is that she is widely admired by the public - including her political opponents - for her bloody-minded independence, integrity and courage.  Aren't those the characteristics we expect from Parliament?  She would have no truck with overambitious reforms, but would just crack heads and clean up. In the year she would be in the post, she would probably get more done than all the other candidates put together.  If anyone can save Parliament from itself, surely she can. This is Ann Widdecombe's moment. Whether Parliament actually wants to be saved is another matter."

It's a case also endorsed by The Times.  "A short period in office for Ann Widdecombe is probably the least worst hope for reform," that newspaper concludes.  Sir George Young would be another good candidate.  He has been a superb Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee.  But other than hoping that Beckett are Bercow are defeated, I have no horse in this race.

Tim Montgomerie

PS Ben Brogan has backed Patrick Cormack and Douglas Carswell will be voting for Richard Shepherd.

8.30am On CentreRight, Graeme Archer backs Richard Shepherd.

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