Leading article: The task for the next Speaker

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The Independent Online

One thing that Members of Parliament cannot complain about today when they gather to choose the next Speaker of the House of Commons is a lack of choice. The 10 candidates run the gamut of backgrounds and outlooks.

There is the Conservative John Bercow who has made a remarkable journey from the hard right of his party to the progressive left. There is the young Labour MP Parmjit Dhanda, who, though little known before he threw his hat into the ring, has impressed many. There is a selection of experienced backbenchers, Sir Patrick Cormack, Sir George Young, Sir Alan Beith and Ann Widdecombe. The veteran former minister Margaret Beckett is in the race too and performing strongly.

Questions, of varying degrees of seriousness, have been raised about the expenses claims of some of these candidates. MPs will also need to weigh up the fact that several candidates served on the Commons Commission, the authority which tried to block the publication of MPs' expenses, when making their choice.

But, expenses aside, there are certain things that all MPs need to keep in the forefront of their minds today. There are certain attributes that the new Speaker simply must have to be a success. He or she must, first, be capable of restoring the authority of the office. Second, he or she needs to understand that the Speaker cannot behave like a shop steward for MPs, but must be prepared to discipline members when necessary. Finally, the new Speaker must be a reformer, prepared to overhaul the rules and customs that have been found lacking. Without these abilities, there is little hope that the new Speaker will restore the public trust in Parliament which has been so disastrously undermined in recent weeks.

The unrepentant tone adopted by Michael Martin in an interview at the weekend shows why he was such an inadequate Speaker. MPs should look for a candidate who seems to have thoroughly learnt the lessons of Mr Martin's failure.

Under new rules, the Speaker is being elected through a secret ballot. MPs need to make full use of that freedom. They must put party considerations aside and vote for the best woman or man for the job.