Widdecombe makes her bid to become Speaker
Her stopgap candidacy could appeal as MPs jostle for backing
Sunday 24 May 2009
Ann Widdecombe is preparing her bid to succeed Michael Martin as Speaker of the House of Commons, after fellow MPs have urged her to throw her hat into the ring.
The veteran Tory MP told The Independent on Sunday that she would be willing to help rescue Parliament from the chaos caused by the expenses furore, as a stopgap candidate until the next general election.
Ms Widdecombe, who has already announced that she will be standing down from her Maidstone and the Weald seat at the next election, said the expenses system needed to be "much tighter" in future.
She said: "I may yet be a candidate. I have been heartened by the number of people who have encouraged me in this idea. I might be prepared to do it as an interim, but I am not running for Parliament next time."
News of another potential candidate came as it emerged that the front-runner to succeed Mr Martin has vociferously supported pay rises for MPs – and claimed that they should be paid as much as family doctors and council chiefs.
John Bercow, who circulated a manifesto to MPs within hours of Mr Martin's decision to stand down last week, argued for a "significant" pay increase during the last review of MPs' salaries carried out by the Senior Salaries Review Body (SSRB).
The Tory MP for Buckingham complained it was "perverse" that parliamentary pay rates had fallen behind occupations with which they had been compared in the past. In a letter to the SSRB in December 2006, he wrote: "I suggest [MPs'] responsibilities are, in terms of breadth, scope and contact with the public, compatible with those of a GP or the chief executive of a medium-sized local authority.
"The use of such comparators would point to a significant increase in remuneration for MPs."
Mr Bercow, formerly a right-wing student activist, emerged as the early front-runner to succeed Mr Martin when he pledged to champion reforms to Britain's "broken" Parliament. He warned that British politics was entering "deeply dangerous territory", which would encourage extremists.
Championed as a "compromise candidate" by many MPs, Mr Bercow has moved closer to the centre ground of politics in recent years, and accepted Gordon Brown's invitation to pilot a report into children with learning difficulties.
While this has made him more acceptable to Labour MPs, he has become unpopular with many party members, who see him as disloyal.
The Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, in an interview with the IoS, refused to explicitly back either Sir Menzies Campbell or Sir Alan Beith, the two possible candidates for Speaker from his party.
"I don't think there should be a Lib Dem candidate, actually," he said. "I am genuinely going to vote for the person I think is going to be the most relentless zealot for reform. I am not necessarily going to vote for a candidate from my own party. It really would be a huge mistake for Parliament now to just fall back and have a tedious block tribal vote on this."
Mr Clegg also ruled out the entry of the Lib Dem Treasury spokesman Vince Cable, saying: "Vince quite rightly says he wants to be a player. He doesn't want to be a referee. He's not going to stand. Vince and I want to be players in changing Britain."
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