John Bercow: Why I would like to be Speaker

I believe that the Parliament and the country is ready to skip a generation
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The Independent Online

I have decided to stand for election as Speaker and this article seeks to explain my reasons. Elected in 1997, I came into the Commons to represent my Buckingham constituents and to stand up for Conservative principles. I was privileged to be given two opportunities to serve as a Frontbencher but, for all its advantages, I frequently found the experience uncongenial.

As a very independent-minded MP, committed to considering each issue on merit and forming my own view, I was rarely at ease with the reality of collective responsibility, however necessary that is in a party system.

As a result, for almost eight years of my parliamentary life, I have been a backbencher. In debates in the Chamber and elsewhere, and on the International Development Select Committee, I have fought for causes dear to my heart on a cross-party basis.

Special educational needs, the fight against global poverty, the case for constitutional reform and the need for equal treatment of people, irrespective of gender, race, disability, age or sexual orientation, have been writ large on my agenda. I have never sought to disguise for one moment that fact that I have undergone a political journey from the right wing of my party to a position as a liberal Tory.

Since the last election, I have been fortunate to serve as a member of the Chairmen's Panel. In that role, I have chaired Bill Committees, Westminster Hall debates and Delegated Legislation Committees. The Chair does not engage in partisan politics but instead has to act as the umpire between colleagues arguing their respective cases. Not only do I find this work extremely stimulating but I reckon that it is a good apprenticeship for any aspiring Speaker.

In asking colleagues for their support, I am asking people to vote not for a Conservative but for a Speaker who has what it takes to restore trust in Parliament and politicians. I am not an establishment candidate. I believe that Parliament is ready for the role of Speaker to skip a generation and that the country might be ready for a young candidate with a different approach. For my part, I would aim to do the job for no more than two parliamentary terms – which, of course, is already a rule for those who chair Select Committees.

Sorting out the mess of the allowances system is an urgent priority. In common with other colleagues, I have claimed the Additional Costs Allowance to reflect expense incurred but, in 2007-08, my overall claims across the allowances were amongst the very lowest in the House. What I believe the public wants, however, is not bald statistics but a transparent, reformed system and Parliament, rising above partisan squabbles, must deliver such a system without delay.

If the House expects to gain the respect of others, it has to start by showing some respect for itself. This means asserting the duty of Parliament to scrutinise the executive and to hold the government of the day to account. This should include radical reform of the way we operate – from the management of House business to the composition of committees, from the level of scrutiny to the opportunities for backbench members to take part in key debates.

As I wrote to my parliamentary colleague, Martin Salter, this week, when he challenged me about the declining reputation of British politics and what I would do to improve it: "We must make no mistake: Parliament is broken. Disengagement from politics and indifference to what we do have given way to outright public ridicule and contempt. This is not just sad, it is deeply dangerous, because it provides fertile ground on which extremists feed. The spate of revelations about expenses has infuriated the people.

"The cause, at least in part, is that for far too long the House of Commons has been run as little more than a private club by and for gentleman amateurs. It remains beset by antiquated practices which would not survive for a moment in any well-run organisation in the public, private or voluntary sectors. It is high time the House was run by professionals on a transparent basis, ensuring that we are accountable to the people who put us here."

Equally importantly, I believe that the next Speaker should not be merely a Speaker for the House, but an ambassador for Parliament to the people. This demands that the Speaker, whilst remaining completely above party politics and scrupulously fair, must reach out to the country, not just explaining the role of the House and the work that individual Members do to as wide an audience as possible – but also listening to and acting on the public's views, in return.

Of course, some colleagues might think that youth is a disqualification but I disagree. The argument against age discrimination cuts both ways. Just as older potential contenders should not be precluded from consideration if they have the necessary qualities, so relative youth should be no bar. If there can be a young Prime Minister, as Tony Blair was and David Cameron rightly strives to be, age is presumably irrelevant. If someone in his or her forties can run the country, so a Speaker in his or her forties can run the House.

The writer is Conservative MP for Buckingham