In the here-and-there of the corridors, plazas and back passages of Westminster a drama is starting to throb. There's going to be excitement immediately Parliament resumes. It's the election of the Speaker. Or as many have assumed, the re-election of the Speaker.
This is a very grand office with vast accommodation, pay, pension, status and after-career benefits on the international circuit. And as each MP can be described as "the concentrated wisdom of their constituency", so the Speaker is the concentrated wisdom of the House. That's a big job.
On Parliament's first day, Big Ben will strike the half hour. The house will be packed. The benches stacked. MPs standing six-deep at the bar. The hubbub bubbles away. Through the public crush, contradictory moods wash to and fro – nothing ever happens in Parliament for just one reason. The air of anticipation is very intense.
The House is focusing on one thing, one chair, one office, one vote to hold or fold the most senior officer of the House of Commons.
One dissenting voice may or may not be enough to trigger that election. It depends. The Father of the House ascends to the Speaker's chair. In this case it is Sir Peter Tapsell. His Rs go to Ws. It is a momentary sadness that he can't call Huw Irranca to voice the motion. Forget I said that. This is a constitutional moment. He calls to the suddenly still chamber – and puts the Motion to re-elect the sitting Speaker.
If someone calls "Object!" he is entitled to ignore it as a rogue, stray, maverick nuisance. He is there, in a fine phrase from another era, "to collect the voice of the House". Then again, he might take the view that one call is enough.
In an Aesop's Fable irony, John Bercow has over the years treated Peter Tapsell in such a way as to make one objection enough. Without going into the details, Bercow used the old shire horse to show what a moderniser he was, and to palliate himself with the Labour Party. And now Tapsell stands with the Bill of Execution in his hand.
Anyway, rumour has it that there are at least three MPs who will call "Object!" And then there will be a vote.
Interestingly, this vote will be in public. In a very recent decision, all votes for all committees and for the election of the Speaker were to be made by secret ballot. The single exception – the re-election of the Speaker – was kept public by virtue of (it is said) a clever arrangement between Bercow and the then Leader of the House, Harriet Harman. A public vote was less likely to go against a sitting Speaker, they reasoned. That is now to be tested.
So, the House divides. Were the decision to be made on the virtues or vices of the individual, he might win (people don't like to humiliate worthy but unsuitable office holders). However, there will be another proposition on offer.
As a demonstration of coalition values, co-operation and generosity, what about a Liberal Speaker?
Isn't it their turn anyway? After 80-odd years? Isn't it time for a Liberal Speaker?
But who could that be?
Well, there is Ming. Looks like a Speaker. Clever. Stately. Steady. Got a wife with twinkling ankles. We all like Sally Bercow because she's a straight shooter. But Elspeth Campbell is an adornment to the constitution.
Who knows how it will turn out? It's House business, all up to them. We watch with fascination.Reuse content