Hodge wins secret ballot to chair spending watchdog

Margaret Hodge, the former Labour minister, has been handed one of the most powerful backbench jobs in the Commons after winning the election to lead parliament's government spending watchdog.

Ms Hodge, a former children's minister, will chair the influential public accounts committee (PAC) following the first-ever secret ballot to decide which MPs will lead the 24 Commons select committees.

The PAC is set to play a major role during the next few years as the coalition Government is forced to cut back spending to deal with Britain's £156bn deficit. It will also keep an eye on the degree to which promised efficiency savings are actually achieved by David Cameron's team.

The Barking MP saw off competition from four Labour colleagues in securing the position, with the final result going down to the wire. Michael Meacher, Iain Wright, Hugh Bayley and Brian Donohoe had also stood for the role. However, Ms Hodge beat Mr Bayley by just six votes.

Her victory came after she promised MPs she would conduct a major post-mortem of Labour spending. Gordon Brown's administration has already been criticised for going on a spending spree shortly before it was voted out of office. The PAC is one of the most respected backbench committees as it is backed by the investigations of the National Audit Office.

The race to lead it was one of the most hotly contested of the inaugural ballot. Select committee chairs had formerly been selected by parties. However, that was changed as part of reforms designed to free up the Commons from the grip of party whips. Their chairs are paid an extra £15,000 on top of their MPs' salary.

Andrew Tyrie was elected chair of the Treasury Committee, unexpectedly defeating fellow Tory, Michael Fallon. Stephen Dorrell, the former Tory health secretary, will lead the health committee after defeating Nadine Dorries, a former nurse. Both Keith Vaz and James Arbuthnot will continue in their roles as leaders of the home and foreign affairs committees respectively.

Barry Sheerman, the former chair of the Education Committee and an outspoken critic of Mr Brown, blamed Labour whips for his failure to win the leadership of the business committee. He said the "Brown machine" was still in operation. "I have been approached by colleagues who said they were heavily leant on not to vote for me," he said. "Let's hope that in the not too distant future we can put the Brown machine as well as Mr Brown himself behind us."