Should a Lib Dem be the next Commons speaker?

by Stephen Tall on October 16, 2008

A rumour swept the political blogosphere last night that former Tory chancellor Ken Clarke is interested in becoming the next Speaker of the House of Commons (a position currently occupied by Michael Martin, and from which he is widely expected to stand down at the next election or sooner). Here’s Sky News’s Jon Craig:

My spy tells me he has heard that Ken has asked some of his mates to take soundings among Labour and Conservative MPs about the level of support he would receive if he ran for Speaker. … Ken Clarke has always said he would never retire from the House of Commons. “They’ll have to carry me out in a box!” he has said more than once.

The last time the position was vacant, two Lib Dem MPs – Menzies Campbell and Alan Beith – did put their names forward, though both were unsuccessful.

On a personal level, I’m sure all Lib Dem members would wish either candidate all the best if they wanted to throw their hats in the ring again. It’s a moot point how far their occupying such a position, prestigious as it is, would advance the party; though a reforming Speaker who wanted to transform Parliament into a participative democracy in which the public had a real stake would be a welcome, and liberal, change.

Incidentally, there seems to be some dissent about Commons convention relating to the Speakership. By tradition, it seems, the Speaker was appointed from the party in government at the time. Betty Boothroyd was the modern exception to this; her candidacy was supported by many Tory MPs acutely aware of how slender was John Major’s majority. But her election confirmed a more recent tradition, post-1965: that the role of Speaker should alternate between parties. For the record, the last Liberal MP to be Speaker was the Coalition Liberal John Henry Whitley (1921-28).

Labour MPs I’ve heard mentioned in connection with being Speaker include: Frank Field, Gavin Strang, Sir Gerald Kaufman, Bob Marshall-Andrews, Ann Clwyd, Tony Wright and Gwynneth Dunwoody. The Tories most often mentioned – to which list must be added now Ken Clarke – are Sir George Young, Sir Alan Haslehurst, Sir Michael Lord and Sir Patrick Cormack. (It’s not compulsory to be a knighted Tory to be considered for Speaker, but it seems to help).