The Tories’ cowardly attempt to bring down Speaker John Bercow has failed. The last-minute vote in the House of Commons today saw the government defeated by 2228 votes to 202 on a motion to make the process of voting in the Speaker of the House a secret ballot. This, despite being an apparent blow for democracy, is actually a very good thing.
|Speaker John Bercow|
The election of the Speaker takes place at the beginning of each Parliament. Usually, if the sitting Speaker does not choose to step down and holds their Commons seat (which they always do, as they traditionally run unopposed by any major party) then they are re-elected as a matter of form. It is theoretically possible, however, that they could be voted out of office.
Bercow, a former Conservative MP, has been one of the most progressive voices in terms of the conduct of Parliament, eschewing the traditional robes of his office in favour of a simple gown and frequently taking MPs to task for poor behaviour in the House. He has introduced a creche to Parliament to take the pressure off of those MPs who are parents – particularly mothers; he helped drive the creation of the Backbench Business Committee in 2010; and he has called for reform to the undignified, often appalling spectacle of PMQs – only to be blocked by the Tory backbenches. He is also a determined promoter of political participation to young people, appearing at numerous events.
The Conservative Party, however, don’t like him – they look upon him as a traitor, who has abandoned his early right-wing views for a more socially liberal stance. They claim he is biased against the government, and would like to see him brought down. However, many are unwilling to vote against him in the division chambers, for fear of reprisals if they fail.
I am instinctively torn on this issue. My instinct is that Parliament should move towards using secret ballots – not only would this allow the system to be made electronic, and thus save huge amounts of parliamentary time, it would also break the power of the whips and stop party leaderships from bullying their MPs into voting through legislation against their consciences. But to introduce it specifically for Speaker elections, and for no other votes, is both ludicrous and clearly politically motivated.
|Charles Walker MP|
Moreover, the way this entire affair has been conducted is shambolic. Charles Walker MP, who chairs the Parliament’s Procedure Committee, gave a speech declaring that he had been ‘played like a fool’ – the law had been based on a report he had given in the last Parliament, but had been ignored until today. He and many other senior parliamentarians had only been informed of the vote’s imminence at the last minute. Michael Gove, the government Chief Whip, faced calls from the press gallery to resign after the debacle, having ordered a whipped party meeting before the vote.
Speaker John Bercow has been fantastic for Parliament, and the cowardly attempt to unseat him reflects poorly on William Hague – who brought the bill – Gove and the entire Tory Party. Another disgrace to add to the list.