John Bercow re-elected unopposed as Speaker

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Indy Politics

John Bercow was returned as Commons Speaker today after an attempt to remove him was cast aside by the vast majority of MPs.

As the new-look Commons met for the first time since the General Election, a small number of MPs tried to force a vote on Mr Bercow's future as Speaker.

But their calls were overwhelmed by a roar of approval for his continued tenure and the Father of the House, Sir Peter Tapsell, refused to order a formal division.

The abortive bid to oust the Speaker came after David Cameron took his Commons seat as Prime Minister for the first time.

He was cheered into the chamber by Tory MPs and, in another first, sat next to Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister.

The last time Conservative and Liberal ministers sat alongside each other on the Government front bench was during Winston Churchill's wartime coalition which ended in 1945.

Mr Cameron included a nod to Mr Clegg's new position on the Government front bench as he made reference to the large number of new faces in the Commons.

There are 226 new faces in the Commons - more than a third of the 650-seat chamber - after the expenses scandal prompted the biggest exodus in living memory at the General Election.

"It really does look and feel different," Mr Cameron said. "Indeed many of us are sitting next to people that we've never sat next to before."

With the Lib Dems joining the Tories in the new coalition administration, the MPs of both parties shifted sides to the Government benches.

Labour MPs were left with the small number of MPs from nationalist and other minor parties on the opposition benches.

Mr Bercow decided to sit among his former Conservative colleagues on the Government benches - just a few places away from his chief critic, Tory backbencher Nadine Dorries.

As the question was put as to whether he should resume the Speaker's chair, Ms Dorries and Labour MP Kate Hoey were among a handful of MPs who shouted "no".

While the rest of the chamber called back "aye", a single opposing MP is technically enough to force a division, and formal vote, of the House.

But Sir Peter, chairing proceedings, used his discretion to insist "the Ayes have it" and Mr Bercow was dragged to the chair in the time-honoured fashion.

Earlier, in a brief speech, Mr Bercow had pledged to discharge his duties impartially, defend the rights of backbenchers and hold the Government to account.

"It was a privilege to serve as Speaker for the past 10 months and it would be an honour to serve again in this Parliament," he said.

With his wife, Sally, looking down from the public gallery, Mr Bercow added: "I would discharge my duties impartially, not just between parties but between individual members.

"Above all I would defend the rights of backbenchers to hold the Government to account and to champion the causes dear to their hearts."

Mr Bercow became Speaker in June last year - largely on the votes of Labour MPs - after Michael Martin was forced from the post over the expenses scandal.

Since then he has courted some unpopularity on the Conservative benches he once sat on and was even challenged at the election but comfortably held his Buckingham seat.

Tory former Cabinet minister Sir Malcolm Rifkind hailed Mr Bercow today as a "modern Speaker for a modern age".

But, speaking afterwards, Ms Dorries said the Speaker lacked the mandate of an election by the new parliament.

"The problem is he was voted as Speaker by a block Labour vote," she said.

"He needs the support of all parties in the House."

She said it would have been "good for him" to be re-elected, adding: "He's fudged through once again."

The election of the Speaker is the only business MPs are allowed to conduct before they have taken the oath of allegiance - or made the non-religious solemn affirmation - to the Queen.

The swearing-in of MPs will begin tomorrow afternoon, starting with the Speaker, who is followed by Sir Peter Tapsell, then the Cabinet, the shadow cabinet and other privy counsellors and ministers.

Backbench MPs are taken in order of seniority, based on length of service in the Commons. The procedure is expected to run into next week.

MPs can choose to swear on either the New Testament, the Old Testament (in English or Hebrew), the Koran, the Granth, the Welsh Bible or the Gaelic Bible.