Tories rally to Boothroyd's aid

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West Bromwich Conservatives are rallying behind their local Labour MP, the Commons Speaker, Betty Boothroyd, who has been the victim of repeated claims by Westminster Tories that she is biased towards the Opposition.

The whispering campaign even included the suggestion that the Conservatives in her West Bromwich West constituency ought to breach the convention that they should not put up a candidate against her at the next election. While Ms Boothroyd could be expected to retain the seat, which she held in 1992 with a 7,830 majority, such a move would seriously dent her standing.

The local Conservative Association yesterday insisted that fielding a candidate against her was out of the question. Some senior Tories have gone further and indicated their support for her in her role as Speaker.

Spurred by reports in last Sunday's newspapers, Ms Boothroyd took decisive action this week when she used her regular meeting with Alastair Goodlad, the Government Chief Whip, to demand an end to the allegations of bias.

She is understood to have singled out a group of Tory MPs believed to be at the centre of the campaign, including Alan Duncan, MP for Rutland and parliamentary private secretary to Brian Mawhinney, the Conservative Party Chairman.

Ms Boothroyd was elected Speaker in April 1992 after securing substantial Conservative support to beat her Tory opponent, Peter Brooke.

Since then, however, some MPs have compared her unfavourably with her Conservative predecessor, Lord Weatherill. One minister said: "Bernard Weatherill bent over backwards not to help his own side." The minister emphasised, however, that Ms Boothroyd was there "to support the rights of the backbench MP".

The fact also remains that she has never ejected a Conservative backbencher for misbehaviour, but she has evicted the Labour MPs Dale Campbell-Savours and Dennis Skinner.