Leading article: Reform for the wrong reasons

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The Independent Online

The speakership of the House of Commons is normally a job for life.

But it might not be in future thanks to David Cameron. Usually the Speaker is re-elected after each general election through a conventional Commons vote. Re-election is generally a formality.

But as we report today, the Prime Minister has given the green light for Conservative MPs on the Commons Procedure Committee to push for a secret ballot after the next election on whether or not to re-elect the Speaker. Mr Cameron will present this as an act of modernisation, pointing out that the heads of Commons select committees are already elected by secret ballot. But few doubt that the real intention is to dislodge the present occupant of the Speaker's chair: John Bercow.

Mr Bercow is a polarising figure. Before his election, in June 2009, he went on a political journey from the far right of the Conservative party to the modernising left. At one point he was believed to be on the verge of defecting to Labour. That got up the nose of some right-wing Conservatives. Mr Bercow also won election, after the departure of Michael Martin, by attracting the support of Labour members. Many Tories have never forgiven him for that.

Some MPs also privately argue that Mr Bercow lacks the necessary authority to command the House. Others complain about the outspokenness of his wife, a Labour supporter. Yet though there has been plenty of sniping, Mr Bercow's critics have not been able to point to anything in particular that he has done wrong. And he is not responsible for his wife's views. There have been grumblings that the Speaker has shown favouritism to Labour MPs. That is a serious charge. The Speaker has to be scrupulously impartial. Yet there has never been anything to back these claims up. Mr Bercow's enemies seem determined to find bias where none exists.

There might or might not be a case for reforming the rules of the House of Commons. But that case needs to be made on its merits. Reform should not be driven by personal vendettas or old grudges.