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Candidates aim to stamp identity on Speaker role in bid to replace Bercow

More than one round of voting can take place.

John Bercow arrives at Parliament from a session in the gym on his last day as Speaker (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
John Bercow arrives at Parliament from a session in the gym on his last day as Speaker (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

By Richard Wheeler, Elizabeth Arnold, George Ryan and Sophie Morris, PA Political Staff

MPs hoping to become the new Speaker sought to distance themselves from John Bercow, in a bid to stamp their own identity on the key Commons role.

Seven candidates are bidding to take it on, following Mr Bercow’s departure after a decade in the position, which has been viewed as a time of reform but also controversy.

A secret ballot among MPs was taking place on Monday and MPs can only vote for one candidate.

More than one round of voting can take place, with the winner being any candidate who receives more than 50% of the votes or the final one remaining.

Dame Rosie Winterton opened the contest by insisting she would “not seek the limelight, but build trust”, adding she would not seek to “dominate” proceedings nor “speak for Parliament, but instead allow the chamber’s different voices to be heard”.

The Labour MP, one of Mr Bercow’s deputies, added she would “douse the flames not pour petrol on them” as she made her pitch to be a “unifying” Speaker.

Labour former minister Chris Bryant asked for the “chance to serve” and pledged to “return to the rulebook, stitch it back together”, acting as an “umpire not a player” in the role.

Sir Edward Leigh, a Conservative former minister, said the Speaker should be a “servant” of the House, adding they must be “a dignified and quiet voice”.

Dame Eleanor Laing pledged to defend MPs, before saying she wants to “end the “culture of bullying”.

The Tory MP, who served as a deputy to Mr Bercow, added: “There are times for continuity and there are times for change. This is the time for change. I want to be that change.

“This is the 21st century for goodness sake, we need to escape from the overbearing and hierarchical structures that have made it all too easy for a culture of bullying to take root.”

Meg Hillier, Labour MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch, also insisted on the need for a “culture shift”, adding: “We have to put our own House in order and call out bad behaviour where necessary, but prevent it before it gets to that point.”

She added she is “not a grandstanding politician” and would speak as little as needed, before saying: “The main thrust of why I’m standing is the bullying and harassment that is still too rife in this building.”

Ms Hillier said there is a “good list of MPs to work for and a bad list of MPs to work for”, noting: “Staff know this, we know this, it may be an uncomfortable message, it may not be a vote winner today, but we should not be complacent even if we’re on that good list.”

The favourite for the role, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, opened by paying tribute to a “great hero” of his, former speaker Betty Boothroyd, who watched from the side gallery.

He highlighted his experience as a deputy speaker for nine years, and stressed the need to allow backbench MPs to hold those in power to account.

Sir Lindsay also said the Commons is “not a club” where length of service takes priority, adding: “The person who walked through that door yesterday is just as important to their constituents – their voice must be heard as well – and the pecking order ought not to be there, it is about equality.”

Sir Lindsay also vowed to push on with security reforms to keep MPs, their families, staff and the Commons safe.

Harriet Harman, a Labour former minister, concluded the speeches by stressing the next Speaker is “really important” as the public’s view of Parliament “is at an all-time low”.

Ms Harman said: “I would reform the Speaker’s powers to make them transparent and accountable to this House, and I would be fearless in standing up for the rights of the House.”

She added: “Six hundred years, only ever one woman.

“There have been 156 men, and this is my question to the House today. Can we show the country we have changed by putting the second woman in that Speaker’s chair?”

Mr Bercow, 56, departed the Speaker’s chair on October 31.

He entered Parliament in 1997 and held several shadow ministerial positions before taking the Speaker’s chair on June 22 2009, promising to serve “no more than nine years in total”.

He abandoned that commitment ahead of the 2017 snap election, but allegations of bullying by former members of his staff, denied by the Speaker, led to fresh calls for him to quit.

In recent months he also came under fire for a series of controversial Brexit rulings in the chamber, which were widely considered to favour Remain supporters.

PA

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