Labour whips have been accused of running a covert campaign to elect Margaret Beckett today as the third successive Speaker drawn from the party's ranks.
The former Foreign Secretary goes into the election — conducted by secret ballot — with a narrow lead over her main rivals, the former Conservative Cabinet minister Sir George Young and the Tory backbencher John Bercow.
Ten candidates — seven Tory, two Labour and one Liberal Democrat — have put themselves forward for today's elections to replace Michael Martin, who resigned after criticism of his handling of the expenses crisis. The winner will face a daunting task in helping to restore the shattered reputation of the Commons.
Mrs Beckett's surprise candidacy, announced just days after she was sacked as a minister by Gordon Brown, has rapidly gathered momentum to the point where she has passed Mr Bercow to become the front-runner.
But her surge has provoked a backlash among both Tory and Labour MPs who claimed her campaign was being privately orchestrated by Labour whips, who also successfully lobbied for Mr Martin nine years ago.
The Labour MP Stephen Pound predicted that Mrs Beckett would win, but protested that the party whips were “touting” her for the position.