POLITICS
26/03/2015 09:39 GMT | Updated 26/03/2015 14:59 GMT

John Bercow Survives 'Grubby' Tory 'Plot' To Oust Him As Speaker

John Bercow has defiantly insisted he intends to remain as Speaker of the House of Commons, amid a failed Conservative "plot" to remove him from the job.

In an extraordinarily bad tempered debate in the Commons today, David Cameron was accused of behaving in a "petty and spiteful" way after ambushing Labour with a last minute parliamentary manoeuvre that would change the rules on how the Speaker is elected after the general election. While William Hague was branded a "grubby, cowardly assassin".

However the government dramatically lost the vote by a margin of 228 votes to 202 - leading to loud cheering and applause from the Labour benches.

In almost unprecedented scenes, Labour MPs also gave a standing ovation to a Tory MP who, close to tears, gave an emotional speech defending Bercow.

Under present rules, Bercow could be expected to be re-elected in an open public ballot of MPs. However the government wanted to change the rules so MPs would vote in a secret ballot. The suggested rule change was seen as a way of making it easier to oust Bercow.

Hague, the Conservative leader of the Commons, said the change was simply to bring the vote into line with other elections." It frees all members of pressure form Whips on either side or from the chair," he said.

However critics, including the Labour Party and many on the Tory benches, argued it had been done solely to take revenge on Bercow and undermine his authority with the ultimate goal of pushing him out of the Speaker's chair. Bercow is unpopular with many Tory MPs, including the prime minister, for how he chairs debates.

Bercow told MPs earlier on Thursday: "I'm in the chair and I am intending to remain in the chair. Today and I hope subsequent to today." He added: "I'm not going anywhere".

Angela Eagle, Labour's shadow leader of the House, said Hague should be ashamed of the "grubby little plot against the Speaker". She said the prime minister was behaving in a "petty and spiteful" manner because he did not like being scrutinised by the Speaker.

Since his election as Speaker in 2009, Bercow has clashed on many occasions with Cameron and other senior Conservative ministers.

Former home secretary Jack Straw accused Hague and Cameron of a "underhand measure to the and undermine" Bercow. Labour's Gerald Kaufman described the manoeuvre as" grubby, squalid and nauseous". Chris Ruane accused Hague of being a "grubby, cowardly assassin" and Jamie Reed said he was sad that Hague had agreed to take charge of the rule change rather than the "lazy, cowardly, bullying, spiteful, vindictive prime minister who isn’t fit to lace his shoes".

Tory MPs were told to remain in Westminster for a meeting with Cameron's election strategist Lynton Crosby last night. The meeting meant most Conservative MPs remained in London overnight, unlike many Labour MPs who had left Westminster to campaign across the country.

However the criticism of Cameron and Hague was not confined to the Labour benches. Tory backbencher Peter Bone said Hague would "live to regret" the move. "It is a bad day for parliament," he said.

Julian Lewis, a close Conservative ally of Bercow, reminded the Commons the vote had been called at the "eleventh hour". And Tory Philip Davies said of the vote that it was "unjustifiable to keep it secret to the last minute". He added: "The kind of student union politics that has the fingerprints of the Whips office all over it."

Defending the move, Hague told the Commons that secret ballots were fairer than the open public vote. MPs, he said, should be able to vote for who they wanted as Speaker without "fear" that failing to vote for the eventual winner would damage their ability to get picked in debates.

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