Rival Speaker candidates go head-to-head

Speak now, or forever hold your reforming peace: Speaker hustings today
Speak now, or forever hold your reforming peace: Speaker hustings today

By Alex Stevenson

The campaign to replace Michael Martin as Speaker stepped up a notch today as the candidates to replace him participated in a hustings event.

This afternoon saw the first in a series of such events in which most of those present sought to explain why their age and experience were positives.

All ten candidates strove to strike a balance between continuity and change as they sought to win over support from their MPs.

Some, like Ann Widdecombe, pressed the need to raise the profile of parliament beyond Westminster.

"We need to have someone who possesses some of the vulgar attributes that can connect with the public," she said, claiming she possessed such attributes.

Fellow Tory Sir George Young agreed, pressing that "this debate is as much about personalities as it is policies".

Others concentrated on winning over their electorate, the backbenchers dissatisfied with the way the Commons works.

"Nobody knows better than me the huge frustrations of backbenchers," deputy speaker Sir Michael Lord said. "They're too often lobby fodder. I understand that frustration."

Some preferred to concentrate on those policies by putting forward a range of proposals. Parmjit Dhanda said he wanted to see more "plain, blunt English" in the Commons.

Sir Patrick Cormack made clear his opposition to the "appointed quango" proposed to monitor MPs' standards by Gordon Brown.

And Sir Alan Beith, the only Liberal Democrat candidate standing, said he would support the abolition of "secret lists" about who would be permitted to speak.

The two deputy speakers argued their experience in the chair would stand them in good stead.

Sir Alan Haselhurst pressed that "at least you know something about me" and finished: "I do think an experienced hand on the tiller would be beneficial to this parliament and the next."

Margaret Beckett, the former foreign secretary and leader of the House, played up her extensive CV as evidence of her impartiality and reforming impulses.

"The devil is in the detail," she warned, using all her government experience to reflect on the range of proposals being put forward.

Other contenders sought to distinguish themselves from the field. Richard described himself as the "back to the future" candidate while John Bercow, regarded as the favourite, described himself as the "clean-break candidate who's not stood before, not been in government and is not standing down".

Mr Martin will stand down next Sunday, with the secret ballot choosing his successor taking place the following day.

Another hustings event takes place on Wednesday, hosted by the Parliament First group.

The ten MPs campaigning to be Speaker are:

Margaret Beckett
Parmjit Dhanda

John Bercow
Sir Patrick Cormack
Sir Alan Haselhurst
Sir Michael Lord
Richard Shepherd
Ann Widdecombe
Sir George Young

Liberal Democrat
Sir Alan Beith


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