Beckett joins growing list of would-be Speakers

Margaret Beckett has been installed as Labour's leading candidate to become the next Speaker of the House of Commons after confirming that she would be competing for the job.

Ms Beckett, who was sacked from the Government after Gordon Brown's reshuffle last week, said she wanted to help Parliament deal with its "very considerable problems". She looks likely to be the highest profile Labour candidate to enter the election on 22 June.

Tory MP John Bercow remains the current favourite with bookmakers. However, questions over his expenses, as well as a dearth of support from within his own party's ranks, could see him overhauled by Ms Beckett. She said that "time would tell" whether controversy over her expenses would damage her chances. She claimed for a second home, despite owning her constituency home and using a grace and favour flat.

Her announcement adds to the already crowded race to replace the current Speaker, Michael Martin, who will vacate the post on 21 June. The Tory MP Ann Widdecombe, the Conservative Deputy Speaker Sir Michael Lord, Liberal Democrat Sir Alan Beith, and the Tory MPs Sir George Young and Sir Patrick Cormack are among those likely to be among the field. The Labour backbencher, Parmjit Dhanda, also announced yesterday that he was throwing his hat into the ring. The former communities minister said in an email to colleagues that he was not "an obvious choice", but added he wanted to boost political participation among the public.

Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat MP, has not yet decided whether to add his name to the list. He is taking soundings over launching another bid for the prestigious post after losing out to Mr Martin in 2000.

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