Candidates for Speaker turn backs on tradition to woo MPs

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Indy Politics

They may not be the frontrunners. But seven of the 13 candidates to become the next House of Commons Speaker yesterday sought to change tradition when their electoral statements went out to all MPs.

They may not be the frontrunners. But seven of the 13 candidates to become the next House of Commons Speaker yesterday sought to change tradition when their electoral statements went out to all MPs.

Under Parliament's arcane rules, candidates for the Speakership are usually not allowed to campaign publicly for the post. But backbenchers have been determined to bring more openness into the contest by distributing their own mini-manifestos.

Their pledges ranged from promises to sweep away the "niggling and irrelevant" rules on MPs' attire and parliamentary language to more obvious statements such as the commitment "to the role of the House of Commons in holding the Government of the day to account".

John McWilliam and David Clark hoped to swing the women's vote by coming outin support of more family-friendly hours while Gwyneth Dunwoody appealed to everyone by promising "adequate pay" for MPs.

Sir Patrick Cormack risked offending some prospective supporters by saying: "We must not forget that Parliament is not there for our convenience."

Michael Lord listed his sense of humour as a bonus and John Butterfill noted that a backbencher's career should be a proper alternative to a ministerial career.

Almost all, unsurprisingly, argued in favour of greater independence from the Executive and want to limit government business managers' power to exert influence over appointments to select committees.

In a break with tradition, a hustings has been arranged for the morning of 23 October, the day of the vote, to give candidates the chance to present their electoral statements.

But three of the candidates who are regarded as frontrunners, Sir George Young, Michael Martin and Menzies Campbell, have all failed to produce a mini-manifesto and have yet to confirm their presence at the hustings. Alan Beith has confirmed his presence at the hustings but not yet produced a statement. Sir Alan Haselhurst has ruled out attending the hustings and Richard Shepherd has not replied yet.

Tony Benn, the veteran MP for Chesterfield, will step up a backbench campaign to reform the election procedure today during a special meeting with Sir Edward Heath, the Father of the House.

Mr Benn will try to convince Sir Edward, who will be in charge until a new Speaker is elected, to approve debate on his amendment to current rules, which would allow MPs to vote for all the candidates separately before deciding between the two with the most votes.

Mr Benn said there was an urgent need for reform because the current system was unworkable, this time, because of the large number of candidates.

According to convention, Sir Edward will call a backbencher to move a motion proposing a colleague as Speaker. He will then call for an amendment to the motion, which proposes a rival candidate.

A vote will be taken, allowing the House to divide. If he or she fails to win a majority, then a further amendment will be taken, proposing someone else, until a winner is found or the original motion taken.

In short, there will be no chance to line all the candidates up against each other and vote at the same time. The candidates that Sir Edward calls first and second are absolutely crucial.

If Mr Benn succeeds in persuading Sir Edward today, this unfair and out-dated system could finally be put to rest.

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