With customary stubbornness, the father of the House calls an order that defies reason

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Indy Politics

For Sir Edward Heath, it was probably his most powerful role since his days as Prime Minister. As father of the House, it was entirely up to his discretion in which order the 12 candidates would be called during the debate to elect the new Speaker of the Commons. And he certainly lived up to his reputation as a man of unbending stubbornness.

For Sir Edward Heath, it was probably his most powerful role since his days as Prime Minister. As father of the House, it was entirely up to his discretion in which order the 12 candidates would be called during the debate to elect the new Speaker of the Commons. And he certainly lived up to his reputation as a man of unbending stubbornness.

He even fended off a last-minute attempt by his old adversary, Tony Benn, to reform the arcane and highly complex election procedure.

The MP for Chesterfield had pleaded with him in an earlier meeting in the Commons and later in the chamber to allow debate on his amendment, which would have introduced a fairer ballot. But Sir Edward, despite fierce and at times aggressive pressure from all sides of the House, would not change his mind.

"I think we would become very confused if we tried to change the rules in the middle of our election," he insisted. While he had "considerable sympathy" with those who wanted a ballot, he went on to warn it was not a simple solution.

He said that to set up an alternative to the current procedure would take considerable time and required careful investigation.

Following convention, Sir Edward said he would call a backbencher to move a motion proposing a colleague as Speaker. He would then call for an amendment to the motion proposing a rival candidate. He told MPs a vote would be taken after each amendment until a winner was found or the original motion taken.

He sought to appease dissatisfied MPs by reading out the order in which the candidates would be called before the contest. But Sir Edward raised ironic laughter when he said after outlining the complicated procedure: "I hope that will be helpful."

While the 84-year-old MP has in the past insisted he would ensure fairness by calling names alphabetically, this time there was no feasible system to the sequence of names. Sir Edward told backbenchers who inquired as to the logic behind his choice: "It was done at my discretion."

During later debate, he came under renewed heavy attack for his refusal to allow a debate on Mr Benn's amendment when several MPs called the current procedure "discredited". But Sir Edward repeatedly rejected their appeals and went ahead with calling the motion for the Speakership. It was not the first time he has angered MPs on all sides during his political life.

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