Miss the Speaker?
The new Mister Speaker - and they are the 157th Mister, not the second Madame - is proof that politics in Britain right now really is topsy-turvy. A privately educated, knight of the realm who is the son of an MP and peer, to the untrained eye Sir Lindsay Hoyle has a CV that makes him sound like an archetypal Tory.
The reality, as his broad Lancashire accent attests, is very different. Lindsay refused to ‘inherit’ his father’s seat of Warrington North, preferring to take on the Tory marginal of Chorley and win in it 1997. Furthermore, Doug Hoyle (watching in the gallery today) never wanted to go to the Lords - having long believed it should be abolished - but was persuaded by his son to accept the honour from Tony Blair.
It’s that pragmatism, as well as his genial nature, that makes Hoyle junior so popular across the House of Commons that he now chairs. And although no one could call him a Tory, it was the apparent conservatism of his Speakership candidacy that certainly appealed to many government MPs who waved their order papers on his victory.
And in a neat inversion of John Bercow’s election 10 years ago, when Labour votes ensured an Opposition backbencher got the top job, it was Tory votes that piled in to secure the post for an Opposition backbencher today.
What was most striking about the Speaker election as a whole, other than the fact that the Commons can’t organise a booze-up in its own brewery (the ballot paper delays were interminable), was the way nearly all the candidates trashed Bercow just days after he was lauded on his retirement.
Several mentioned the need to really tackle the bullying and harassment that had occurred under Bercow’s tenure, the lack of impartiality, the self-aggrandisement, the way the Speaker spoke too much and listened too little. His personal feuds with some MPs were unprecedented for someone in his office. Miss the Speaker (Bercow)? No, they don’t.
Hoyle won’t pretend to be as eloquent or learned as his predecessor. Yet he triumphed over his rivals mainly because MPs have had several years to actually see him in action, treating them fairly in the deputy speaker’s chair - and keeping proceedings to a timetable.
One reform however that Hoyle did hint at in his own speech was to make the Speaker more ‘accountable’. That means more transparency and a sharing with other senior MPs such duties as selecting future clerks, chaplains, Serjeant at Arms. Several backbenchers on both sides of the House felt Bercow, for all his laudable reforms in making ministers more accountable, created his own secretive, mini-autocracy at the heart of our democracy.
One of the first tests for the new era will be whether this new Speaker oversees a new system that will finally, fully investigate the bullying allegations against the old Speaker (which he strenuously denies). And as Meg Hillier put it today, the problem is wider than that: “There is a good list of MPs to work for and a bad list of MPs to work for—staff know this, we know this.”
But perhaps the biggest difference that Hoyle will make will be one of style. He will be both present (ensuring fair play for backbenchers) and absent (no Victorian circumlocutions) at the same time. And while Bercow’s passage from apparent hero to apparent zero in just a few days may shock some outside Westminster, many MPs are used to such flips of fortune. With election day looming, some of them know they may have only days left themselves.
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Monday Cheat Sheet
Sir Lindsay Hoyle was elected as the new Speaker of the House of Commons. The 158th Speaker won 325 votes, following four rounds of voting. Chris Bryant MP came second with 213 votes.
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