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).

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17 comments

Dunwoody would have to make a remarkable comeback to become speaker…

by Dave on October 16, 2008 at 2:06 pm. Reply #

Perhaps she could be a voice from beyond the grave 🙂

by asquith on October 16, 2008 at 2:17 pm. Reply #

Ahem, copy ‘n’ paste in haste, repent at leisure… Will correct when next at my PC!

by Stephen Tall on October 16, 2008 at 2:39 pm. Reply #

Gwyneth Dunwoody might be dead, but she’d still be a lot better than the present incumbent.

i think it would be fantastic to have a LibDem speaker. Ming Campbell would eb superb and i suspect he might be attractive to the Labour government too.

by Mark Littlewood on October 16, 2008 at 2:55 pm. Reply #

Wouldn’t mind Ken Clarke, but Gerald Kaufmann would be a terrifying prospect…

by markie on October 16, 2008 at 3:01 pm. Reply #

If Michael Martin is considered partisan, just imagine what Gerald “My Prime Minister” Kaufmann would be like….

I would support a LibDem Speaker…but do we have the right number of MPs with healthy enough majorities to be seen “giving up a seat” ?

Were we REALLY radical and forward thinking, could we not suggest a member of parliament becomes “Member for St Stephens” or “Westminster” or whatever it is, causing a by-election in the original seat but keeping the Speaker as truely independent?

by Liam Pennington on October 16, 2008 at 4:40 pm. Reply #

Has Ming got a loud enough voice? :@)

by Jo Jo on October 16, 2008 at 5:08 pm. Reply #

I miss Betty. It makes me sad that aside from the deceased there’s only one lady on the list.

One from each party I could live with would be Bob Marshall-Andrews, Ken, or Ming.

by Jennie on October 16, 2008 at 5:31 pm. Reply #

Wouldn’t want Marshall-Andrews as Speaker. Want him on the Labour backbench causing trouble, which is what he does best.

by James Graham on October 16, 2008 at 5:46 pm. Reply #

Good point, well made, James.

PS. About to hit post on my blog. Prepared to be PWNed!

by Jennie on October 16, 2008 at 6:13 pm. Reply #

Ming would make a good speaker, so would Sir Alan Haslehurst (one of the current deputy speakers) as for someone from the labour party, dont think they have anyone ‘good’ enough to be speaker. Ming has the respect of a vast majority of the House, and as for Sir Alan whenerver he fulls in for Speaker Martin during PMQs he gets all the way through the alloted questions, instead of the situation you have with the current Speaker where only the top few questions are asked

by Stephen on October 16, 2008 at 7:10 pm. Reply #

Sir Robert Smith for Speaker – it is a perfect match

by Ralph Perkins on October 16, 2008 at 11:17 pm. Reply #

Bob Marshall Andrews has said he is stepping down aftert this parliament

by media scum on October 17, 2008 at 12:57 pm. Reply #

As Stephen says, there is a lot of confusion over the convention. It is most accurate to say that the government of the day always tables the motion nominating that one of their own MPs be seated as Speaker. Until recent rule changes not yet used, the “contested election” was an amendment proposing to replace the government nominee with the name of another MP. (Hence in 2000 there were effectively about ten different elections featuring Martin vs one other candidate each time.)

1992 was the first time an opposition amendment fas succeeded that anyone can remember. My recollection is that Conservative backbench MPs weren’t thinking about the slender size of the majority (remember that as the deputies generally don’t vote either this has less of an impact) but rather they objected to Peter Brooke’s candidacy as he had only just left the Cabinet. (Some past Speakers were ex Cabinet ministers – Thomas, Lloyd and Morrison spring to mind – but all had had at least five years out of office before reaching the chair.)

The rotation between 1959 and 2000 was a total by-product of both this rebellion and which party happened to be in government at the time of the vacancies. Had a better Conservative candidate been nominated in 1992 it’s probable they would have been seated and the myth of a rotation convention never established.

On one other crucial point, Liam raises the age-old suggestion that the Speaker should sit “for St. Stephen’s” and a regular MP be elected for their constituency. The main problem is that this will alter the basics of the Speaker being one of the MPs, with a constituency like any other, and elected at the start of each Parliament. MPs can in theory challenge the re-election of a sitting Speaker (and I suspect enough mavericks will challenge Martin after the next election) each Commons should have the right to choose its own Speaker, not have a choice imposed on it by a previous Commons.

by Tim Roll-Pickering on October 17, 2008 at 1:36 pm. Reply #

Ming would be an excellent Choice and I hope concerns about losing a seat will not stop the party supporting him. Ken Clarke would be fine as well. Bob Marshall Andrews would be excellent and could be a Labour ruse. It would save Medway from being the inevitable tory gain that it will be next time when he stands down. Also he could cause a lot of trouble for an incomming Tory Government.

by Clegg's Candid Admirer on October 18, 2008 at 7:13 pm. Reply #

Why on earth would we want a LD speaker? It’s a position with no political clout and would be one less LD MP (and a seat to be lost when s/he retired).

The idea that having a LD speaker would get a better deal for our lot in the COmmons is cloud cuckoo-land.

Tony Greaves

by Tony Greaves on October 18, 2008 at 7:51 pm. Reply #

Tommorrows ComRes Con 40 Lab 31 LD 16

by Clegg's Candid Admirer on October 18, 2008 at 7:55 pm. Reply #

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