Whether or not it got the right man, this bizarre vote discredits Parliament

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The Independent Online

Whether or not the House of Commons took the wrong decision yesterday, it certainly took it in the wrong way. That Tony Benn's heroic - and widely supported - attempt to inject an element of sanity into the way MPs elect the most important custodian of Parliament's ancient and all too threatened rights proved to be in vain, might not have affected the result.

Whether or not the House of Commons took the wrong decision yesterday, it certainly took it in the wrong way. That Tony Benn's heroic - and widely supported - attempt to inject an element of sanity into the way MPs elect the most important custodian of Parliament's ancient and all too threatened rights proved to be in vain, might not have affected the result.

But that the Commons should still resort to a bizarre, and to the outside world, incomprehensible, electoral system says a lot about whytoo many people now regard it more as an entertaining exhibit in a Merrie England theme park than the vibrant modern legislature it urgently needs to become. Easily the best aspect of Michael Martin's likely election as Speaker is the fact that in too class ridden a society, an ex-sheet metal worker from the Glasgow tenements can occupy one of the most central jobs in the British constitution. And, incidentally, help to nail the lie that time is gradually running out for Scots to play a central role in United Kingdom politics.

Easily the worst aspect is that this was a fairly classic case of Labour tribalism at its most naked and that several candidates more obviously qualified to advance the interests of Parliament as a check and balance on the executive were easily defeated.

In particular Sir George Young, whose background as a toff belies a history of backbench virility and who helped to promote Lord Norton's ground-breaking report on advancing the rights of the Commons over the executive.

As it happens, Sir George, in a perfectly judged speech, dealt with this. There was a strong case for a Conservative to take the Speakership. It's true that the notion of alternating Speakers is relatively recent, having begun in the 1960s. But the fact that before that Speakers came from one party - the Conservatives - was, unjustly, a function of the fact that they spent a lot more time in power during the last century than Labour.

But the Commons has spoken. Mr Martin may have a lot to prove and he should set about proving it in earnest. And if there is not a better system for electing the Speaker next time, MPs will have only themselves to blame for Parliament sinking further into disrepute.

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