Now that John Bercow has announced his imminent departure, an inevitable political bun fight will surely follow. The outgoing Speaker told colleagues that he would be stepping down from his post by 31 October, the day the UK is supposed to leave the European Union. The move comes after the Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom told the Mail on Sunday that the Tories were planning to break with convention and field a candidate in his Buckingham constituency at the next election. So who will replace the controversial Commons referee? The most likely runners and riders are outlined below:
Lindsay Hoyle (Lab)
The most obvious choice for the next Speaker of the Commons. Hoyle has established himself as one of the front runners during his tenure as Bercow’s most senior deputy. Lauded for his calm and evenhanded approach, the popular Labour MP notably ticked off SNP MPs as they sang the EU’s official anthem ‘Ode to Joy’ during a vote on the Brexit Bill, telling them ‘I don’t want a sing-off in the chamber’. Perhaps Mr Hoyle could have stepped in during last night’s singing competition…
However, Hoyle faces a particular difficulty in that he represents the marginal seat of Chorley. Precedent dictates that the other main parties won’t fight the Speaker in a general election – a rule that has been observed since 1987, notwithstanding Leadsom’s intervention on Sunday. The question is whether the current Tory leadership might consider breaking that precedent by putting forward a challenger in Hoyle’s constituency, gambling that it might make their own preferred candidate for Speaker appear more stable and therefore more attractive.
Harriet Harman (Lab)
The former Labour deputy leader has become something of a political grandee in recent years. Harman, dubbed ‘The Mother of the House’ by Theresa May in 2017, would be well-placed to pick up votes from moderates on both sides of the aisle. However, she will not have endeared herself to Boris and co. after she said last month that she would happily serve as a caretaker PM to stop no deal. Indeed, while she could well secure the backing of some Tory and ex-Tory wets, in reality Harman is seen as a more partisan figure by your average Conservative backbencher.
Eleanor Laing (Con)
Laing has been openly courting the Speakership in recent months from her position as one of Bercow’s deputies. The Scottish-born MP for Epping Forrest has also been sharpening her Brexit credentials after she blocked an amendment by Dominic Grieve in July designed to stop the Prime Minister from proroguing parliament to secure a no-deal exit. In January 2016, while chairing a debate in the Commons, Laing criticised the heavily pregnant Labour MP Tulip Siddiq for ‘playing the pregnancy card’ when she broke parliamentary rules by leaving the house to eat.
Laing has also been seen as something of a Eurosceptic since entering parliament, supporting first Michael Howard and then William Hague in their respective leadership bids. A possible contender as the Boris candidate?
Chris Bryant (Lab)
Amateur historian Chris Bryant has published a two-volume biography of parliament and fancies himself as something of a parliamentary expert, having also edited a series of essays on constitutional reform. Such know-how will come in handy given the best attempts of MPs to tear apart parliament’s legal framework.
Bryant also knows how to cajole a congregation. Before entering parliament in 2001, the openly gay chair of the finance committee spent five years in the priesthood before quitting after he decided that a life in the clergy was incompatible with his sexuality.
His election as Speaker could raise concerns with the Prime Minister. As the chair of the all parliamentary group on Russia in 2017, Bryant claimed he was ‘absolutely certain’ that Putin has so-called kompromat on Boris Johnson.
Charles Walker (Con)
Walker has spent the last seven years as the chair of the Procedure Committee, the Commons body set up to consider the practices of the House and that decides the process of electing a new Speaker. He notably burst into tears during Michael Gove and William Hague’s attempt to take down Bercow during the last week of the parliamentary session before the 2015 general election. While seen as a somewhat middle-of-the-road Tory, Walker is also chair of the Conservative backbencher’s 1922 Committee, a position that can only help any potential bid for the Speaker’s chair.
Rosie Winterton (Lab)
Winterton is another of the three deputy speakers, having taken up the role in June 2017. She was kicked off the Labour frontbenches following six years in the shadow whips office where she was widely seen as a canny political operator. Her relationship with Corbynites soured rapidly following the so-called ‘soft coup’ immediately after the 2016 referendum and was treated with increasing degrees of suspicion. Winterton came under fire last year after she was selected for a damehood by a Whitehall panel on which she herself sat.
Edward Leigh (Con)
Leigh was one of the first to throw his wig into the ring yesterday afternoon following Bercow’s announcement. The Tory hopeful is something of an outrider, known for his Christian faith and socially conservative views. In March this year, he was one of only 21 MPs to vote against LGBT inclusive sex education in English schools.