Lindsay Hoyle wins the race to succeed John Bercow, by being the most anyone-but-Bercow candidate

Days after spending long hours worshipping John Bercow, MPs went wild as his would-be replacements took it in turns to denounce him

Tom Peck
Political Sketch Writer
Monday 04 November 2019 21:53
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Sir Lindsay Hoyle voted new Speaker of the Commons

According to ancient custom, newly elected speakers of the House of Commons are dragged from the backbenches up to the speaker’s chair.

It is a tradition which is believed to date from November 2019, when the endless, utterly pointless rounds of voting to deliver a result that was blindingly obvious from the very start led to the slow, involuntary shutdown of crucial biological processes among all present.

By the time Sir Lindsay Hoyle was duly elected speaker, he and everybody else in the House of Commons had entered a kind of waking sleep paralysis. Seconds had become hours, hours entire lifetimes.

In the end, he had to be raised from his torpor and carried the 15 steps up to his new seat by what are thought to have been winged cherubs from some other celestial realm, even if video footage would strongly suggest they were in fact Nigel Evans and Caroline Flint.

The election of Sir Lindsay Hoyle means that a nominal Conservative far to the left of half the Labour Party has been replaced by a nominal Labour MP far to the right of half the Tories.

He was dragged to the chair under the watchful eye of his father Doug, a former Labour MP and now Labour peer.

Sir Lindsay speaks like he’s wandered straight out of the Phoenix Club. In fact he has wandered out of the only private school in Bolton. No one who had been to a state school took part in the entire contest.

The speaker election was a fitting sendoff in its way. Not a sendoff for John Bercow, he’s already had two fitting sendoffs, in the form of two three-hour long sessions of tributes to him, one impromptu and reluctantly indulged by him. The other – equally reluctantly – formally scheduled by him.

It wasn’t a sendoff for Ken Clarke, even if he did preside over it, on the last but one of of his roughly 18,037 days as an MP. It was perhaps fitting that Mr Clarke should spend his final hours sitting at the clerks' table.

Boris Johnson rose to pay tribute to him at the end. The ministerial jobs he'd held in four different decades, the advice he'd given. It's possible Mr Clarke might have appreciated the sentiment a little more had it been delivered by someone other than the man who'd chucked him out of the Tory party at the end of a lifetime's service.

Mainly it was a sendoff for the 2017 House of Commons vintage, which had turned to vinegar before bottling, and was then corked anyway.

Fewer events have paid greater testament to the totemically buggered nature of the 2017 parliament than this. On Thursday, MPs spent several hours paying testament to the wonders of John Bercow, the second time they have done so in a matter of weeks. On Monday afternoon, all seven of the candidates to replace him gave speeches which were mild variations on the theme of “I will be absolutely nothing like that ghastly man” and all were cheered to the rafters.

Chris Bryant promised to make Prime Ministers Questions 30 minutes long again, to “end clapping” (they clapped that, obviously – epic banter).

“It is the role of the speaker not to create division or rancour in this House, but to seek consensus,” said Dame Eleanor Laing. They loved that too.

Sir Lindsay is a more softly spoken man, and significantly less self-important. It will be a considerable boon to him that he isn’t utterly loathed by almost all of his own parliamentary party. John Bercow began his political life on the furthest reaches of the right of the Conservative Party. He stood down as a Labour member in all but title.

My Hoyle will have no such concerns. His finest hour, perhaps, was in the hours and days after the murder of PC Keith Palmer.

“We are a village,” he said then, “and our village has lost its policeman”.

The stakes, in the end, were quite low. Not for the participants, they’ll get their own grace and favour pad right under Big Ben, a fat pension at the end of it and almost certainly, a peerage.

They were low for Westminster as a whole, in the sense that all candidates were fully signed up to the anyone-but-Bercow ticket.

By the end of this year, the House of Commons will feel like a remarkably different place. Speeches will be given from the floor of the house, not the chair. Debates will not drag on for hours longer than needs be, because the speaker has made wildly verbose interventions, dozens and dozens of times over, exclusively to tell MPs to be more brief.

MPs won’t find themselves on the wrong side of the speaker, and even if they do, they won’t be mocked and belittled each time their name is mentioned.

It will be a less tempestuous, marginally more grown up place all round.

With his first words as speaker, Sir Lindsay thanked his family, of which one member was tragically conspicuous by her absence - his daughter Natalie, who died two years ago.

When he steeled himself to speak of her, it was clear that tears were threatening to overwhelm him. As he opened his mouth, someone up on the backbenches shouted, "You can do it!"

And after that, he did. "My daughter Natalie," he said. "I wish she could have been here. She was everything to all of us."

We can only hope it is a sign of things to come.

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