Tory ministers in secret plot to oust Speaker


Oliver Wright
Saturday 26 February 2011 01:00 GMT

The government is privately backing a plan to oust the Commons Speaker John Bercow after the next election.

Senior ministers are supporting a proposal which could force the Speaker to face a secret ballot of all MPs to retain his post. If he fails to be re-elected it would be the first time a sitting Speaker has been removed from office against their will.

Ministers believe there is a majority in the House of Commons in favour of removing Bercow – but MPs are worried about voting in public to remove him in case he survives in the job.

They are giving their tacit support to a plan that would change Commons rules to ensure that the Speaker has to be approved for re-election by secret ballot at the start of the Parliamentary term.

As Select Committee chairs are already elected by secret ballot at the start of every Parliament, they believe they can sell it as part of the wider reforms programme which it will be difficult for the Speaker to object to.

The Conservatives might even back a Labour candidate like the Deputy Speaker Lindsay Hoyle to ensure Mr Bercow is ousted. One Minister said: "He has got to go because you cannot have a Parliament where one side does not respect the Speaker."

Mr Bercow has angered the Tories by clashing with chief whip Patrick McLoughlin over his perceived favouritism towards Labour MPs. Even David Cameron and George Osborne have felt free to poke fun at him.

At a recent lunch with journalists, Mr Cameron told a joke comparing the diminutive Mr Bercow with one of the Seven Dwarfs. He said a minister had backed his car into Mr Bercow's when parking at Westminster. The Speaker got out and said, "I'm not happy", to which the minister replied, "Well, which one are you then?"

The joke was then backed up by Mr Osborne: "When David Cameron asked me about telling a joke about the Speaker I said 'Look just make it short... otherwise he is going to go from happy to grumpy and we don't want that'."

Tory Health Minister Simon Burns also called the Speaker a "stupid, sanctimonious dwarf" in another clash in the Commons last year.

Former Tory whip Greg Knight, chairman of the Procedure Committee, has already sought a secret ballot for electing a Speaker. But the Tories plan to try again since the Speaker is now the only post in Westminster that does not have a secret ballot.

One curent Cabinet Minister said: "We're not going to stand in the way of anyone who wants to change the rules. MPs seem to want to have a go at changing the rules and they will be allowed a free vote. There won't be any whipping. Should John Bercow have been made Speaker? No he should not. Should we make it easier for the Commons to do something? Of course we should."

Mr Bercow was once a right-wing Tory MP. But, to the anger of many Tories, he spent years courting Labour MPs in the hope of becoming Speaker. Some claim he has breached the convention that the Speaker must be strictly impartial.

There is also widespread disapproval of the Speaker's wife Sally Bercow – an active Labour supporter.

MPs on the Procedure Committee are expected to bring forward a motion to change the rules before the summer recess. Backbench MPs could then use the new backbench business committee to demand that the Government provides Parliamentary time for a debate and vote on the motion. If that is passed the way would be clear for a future challenge to Mr Bercow.

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