John Bercow will not be re-elected as Speaker of the House of Commons should a coup by top Tories succeed. On Wednesday it was revealed Conservative MP William Hague is to use his last day in Parliament to table a motion for a secret ballot that would allow his former Tory colleague to be replaced.
"Object": Bercow's days as Speaker of the House look set to end
The ballot would be triggered should anyone shout, “object” when the traditional proposal to re-install the Speaker is made after the upcoming election on May 7.
According to Sky News, the standing order states: "If that question is contested, it shall be determined by secret ballot, to take place on the same day under arrangements made by the Member presiding, who shall announce the result of the ballot to the House as soon as is practicable."
On Wednesday evening, Hague was accused of a "squalid" and "shabby" move, which was met with fury from Labour and supporters of Bercow. Tory MP Julian Lewis, one of Bercow's closest allies, accused Commons Leader of carrying out a "squalid manoeuvre". The Commons Leader, who is standing down at the general election, was behaving in an "underhand and shabby way", the New Forest East MP said.
Lewis said: "I'm actually very sad about it because I would never have thought that somebody of the stature of William Hague - a former party leader, now Leader of the House of Commons - would make his last political act in the House of Commons to be the petty, partisan wielding of a knife aimed between the shoulder blades of the Speaker of the House of Commons. It is desperately sad and unworthy, whatever anybody thinks about the nature of the present incumbent of the chair."
Bercow, who was elected to the chair in 2009, has incurred the wrath of his former colleagues over his handling of debates and sessions of Prime Minister's Questions. It is understood that Tory MPs had been ordered to remain in Westminster for a meeting with Conservative campaign guru Lynton Crosby, meaning they will be at almost full strength while MPs from other parties may have already returned to their constituencies. Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs will have a free vote on the issue.
The proposal for MPs to consider whether there should be a secret ballot if the re-election of a speaker is opposed was made by the cross-party Procedure Committee in 2011. Both Hague's spokesman and a Lib Dem source said it was important to give MPs the chance to consider the cross-party Procedure Committee's recommendations, as is customary.
Lewis said a secret ballot would mean "people could plunge the knife in without taking public responsibility for what they are doing". Senior Labour MP Jon Ashworth described it as a "last minute plot" to "get Bercow".
Shadow Commons leader Angela Eagle described the motion as a "surprise" on the final day before the dissolution of Parliament and said Labour had not been consulted. "This is a grubby, last-minute plot in the dying hours of the Parliament to try and changes the procedures of the House," she said. "The Tories are trying to play politics with the speakership because they know they will not win a majority at the next election."
Bercow was first elected as Speaker in a secret ballot following the resignation of Michael Martin - now Lord Martin of Springburn - at the height of the expenses crisis, beating rival candidates including Tory Sir George Young and Labour's Margaret Beckett.
As is traditional, he stood in the 2010 general election as the Speaker, with the main parties not competing in his Buckingham seat. Following his victory in Buckingham he returned to Westminster and resumed his role as Speaker, having been re-elected unopposed by acclaim in the Commons chamber.
A small number of MPs tried to force a vote on Bercow's future as Speaker but their calls were overwhelmed by a roar of approval for his continued tenure and the Father of the House, Sir Peter Tapsell, refused to order a formal division. The new proposal would mean that a secret ballot could be triggered if there was opposition to Bercow resuming the role after this election.