MPs jostle in race for Speaker

The Tories say it is their turn – but Labour MPs have other ideas about Michael Martin's replacement

Former Minister Margaret Beckett and Tory MP John Bercow are emerging as front-runners to be the next Commons Speaker.

At least 10 MPs are preparing to stand in the election on 22 June to succeed Michael Martin, who resigned over his handling of the expenses scandal. The field has become so crowded that some of the candidates may struggle to win enough nominations from fellow backbenchers to put their names forward. One told The Independent: "Some of these people are simply entering to raise their profile. It is becoming ridiculous."

So far seven Conservatives – Mr Bercow, Sir Patrick Cormack, Sir Alan Haselhurst, Sir Michael Lord, Richard Shepherd, Ann Widdecombe and Sir George Young – have said they will stand for the job which will be elected by secret ballot. Two Labour MPs have announced their candidacy – Mrs Beckett and Parmjit Dhanda – and they could be joined by the former Social Security minister Frank Field.

The long-serving Liberal Democrat Sir Alan Beith is definitely standing and could be joined by the party's former leader, Sir Menzies Campbell. There is a feeling among Tories that it is their party's turn to occupy the Speaker's chair as the last two incumbents – Betty Boothroyd and Mr Martin – were drawn from the Labour benches. But many Labour MPs are rallying round Mrs Beckett's surprise candidacy. One senior party figure said: "My money's on her. There are more of us than there are Tories."

Mr Bercow, however, appears to have strong backing among Labour MPs impressed by his independence of mind and criticism of the Tory leadership. One Labour left-winger said: "Many MPs admire his transformation from a Thatcherite into a human being." Sir Alan Haselhurst, the deputy Speaker, is also winning strong support and is said to have the backing of some cabinet ministers. One Tory backer said: "He has virtually done the job for years and has natural authority."

Sir Patrick Cormack, who is making his second bid for the post, said yesterday he had been sent many messages of support. However, many Tories believe he will appeal to the same constituency as Sir George Young, the chairman of the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee.

Miss Widdecombe, who is standing as a stop-gap Speaker until she quits the Commons at the next election, said: "We have got to restore the reputation of the House of Commons with the public and that means somebody who can connect with the public, which I believe I can do very well."

Sir Alan Beith said he wanted to "lead a process of openness and reform". His supporters believe that if he can survive until the last round of voting, he could receive enough support from the Conservatives to defeat Mr Bercow. Some Labour MPs say that they could live with Sir Alan winning the race.

His supporters are hoping that Sir Menzies will not split the Lib Dem vote. Though Sir Menzies ran at the last Speaker election in 2000, some within his party believe his unhappy spell as leader has undermined his suitability to oversee the running of Parliament. "I'm not sure this is the right job for him," one said. "He should concentrate on his foreign affairs work."

The contenders: Simon Carr's verdict

Ann Widdecombe, 61

The best-known female Tory MP, who is quitting at the next election, is standing an interim candidate to begin the process of reform. Has the charisma and personality to make an impact with the public.

Carr's verdict: Hogarth's first choice. Great personal authority, full of character. Voice like a crate of breaking glass. They didn't elect Gwynneth Dunwoody, they won't elect Ann Dunwiddey

Margaret Beckett, 66

Served as minister under four Labour PMs, rising to become Tony Blair's Foreign Secretary. Would command authority and respect, but dragged into expenses scandal over claims for pot plants.

Carr's verdict: As Leader of the House she was too loyal to say anything interesting. But that was then. Intelligent, brisk, firm, with voice and eye of command. Character? Solid. Not without a distant sense of humour (the only sort suitable for a Speaker).

Parmjit Dhanda, 37

Audacious bid from the Labour MP for Gloucester having only been in the Commons since 2001. Three years as a minister before being dropped by Gordon Brown.

Carr's verdict: The Speaker should be "the interface between Parliament and modern Britain", he says, and should make Parliament more representative of Britain as a whole. Also that he was spurred to run by the success of the BNP. All well and good, but not exactly speakerly.

Sir Michael Lord, 70

The Tory MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich has been a deputy Speaker for 12 years. Right-wing and Eurosceptic in outlook. Some colleagues believe he has faltered by launching his campaign too late.

Carr's verdict: Likeable, good temperament, pleasant, even tempered but lacking a little natural authority and possibly not quite clever enough for the position. Lacks novelty (what a fallen world we live in).

John Bercow, 46

Former Tory frontbencher was first to get campaign off the ground, campaigning for Commons reform. Will attract more support from Labour MPs than Tories.

Carr's verdict: Can't be said to represent the whole House, his long campaign for Labour votes having alienated his own side. When chairing Public Bill committees, clearly lacks even-handedness. Artificial way of speaking. Two-thirds of Labour will vote for him, but Beckett should win the run-off.

Sir Alan Beith, 66

The longest-serving Liberal Democrat MP and a former deputy leader of the party. Currently a select committee chairman, he has a detailed knowledge of Commons procedure.

Carr's verdict: No. Perfectly fine fellow, but no.

Richard Shepherd, 66

The Tory MP for Aldridge-Brownhills is a long-standing advocate for modernising Parliament. Regarded as a maverick by many colleagues – it's not clear whether this will count for or against him.

Carr's verdict: One of the standard-bearers of the old sense of liberty and the ancient right of Parliament. Voice gives way at moments of high drama. Not obviously suited to the drudgery of running the chamber.

Sir Patrick Cormack, 70

Veteran centre-left Conservative, his party's longest-serving MP. Critics accuse him of pomposity; he makes no secret of his love of the Commons. Ran for the post nine years ago.

Carr's verdict: Very solid, fluent speaker, and most attentive to the House. Speaks without notes. Independent-minded, brave even. A stranger to the gym. The most parliamentary of the contenders. Probably the most deserving and could have won in an open ballot.

Sir Alan Haselhurst, 71

A current deputy Speaker who is seen by many backbenchers as the natural successor to Michael Martin. But the Tory MP for Saffron Walden faced embarrassment when he was forced to repay £12,000 he claimed for gardening expenses.

Carr's verdict: But for his gardening claims would be the winner. Quick, calm, modest, and the most experienced of the contenders, if that matters. Not too old, whatever people say. The best deputy.

Sir George Young, 68

Former Defence Secretary widely respected across the parties. Was a front-runner to become Speaker nine years ago, but lost out to Michael Martin because of the Labour bloc vote.

Carr's verdict: Tall, clever, long-serving mechanic in the administrative machinery of the Commons. But he'd be the third member of a Holy Trinity of Etonians (after Cameron and Boris). A problem for class-conscious voters. Perhaps a little institutionalised.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister

Met Police confirm it was a 'minor disturbance' and no-one was arrested

Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)

Concerns raised phenomenon is threatening resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
Arts and Entertainment
Shia LaBeouf plays a World War II soldier in forthcoming drama Fury

Eccentric Fury star, 28, reveals he is 'not a really confident actor'

Life and Style
Time and Oak have developed a product that allows drinkers to customise the flavour and improve the quality of cheaper whiskey
food + drink


Peter Biaksangzuala died from his injuries in hospital on Sunday

Life and Style
The final 12 acts will be facing Simon Cowell, Cheryl Fernandez-Versini, Mel B and Louis Walsh tonight

The X Factor's judges colourful outfit was mocked by Simon Cowell


Footage shot by a passerby shows moment an ill man was carried out of his burning home

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Senior Change Engineer (Windows, Linux, VMWare) - London £35k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past