I will fight for the rights of ordinary backbenchers! I make people admire this mother of all Parliaments once again! I am friendly with a sense of humour! I am professional! Each of the speeches given by the candidates for Deputy Speaker at hustings this afternoon consisted of this guff. As one candidate Gary Streeter said, this election is fought by ‘seven candidates, seven friends’. So, who is standing and who will MPs vote for?
Eleanor Laing (33 per cent chance of winning) was keen to extol her passion for Parliament, stressing the need to make the Palace of Westminster open to the public, yet ensuring it remains a place of hard work. Taking a swipe at her more ponderous opponents, Laing voiced her opinion the most important thing about aspiring to sit in the Speaker’s chair is ‘not liking the sound of your own voice’. ‘We’re in the house not for us, but for the people’, she said.
The former Health and Transport minister Simon Burns (14 per cent chance) was keen to tell everyone how qualified he was for the job — even though he’s been off the back benches for three and a half years. Sporting a dapper pair of shoes with gold buckles, Burns claimed he rule the Commons with a firm, but light touch. On his bad relations John Bercow, Burns brushed off the possibility of any potential future conflicts. ‘It is irrelevant whether I am personal friends with the speaker’, insisting he would remain professional and courteous to him. Dwarfed by his authority, perhaps, but for how long?
Brian Binley (11 per cent) was rather pleased with himself for standing. He even asked himself a question: ‘What the hell am I doing here at 71? I could be earning money out there’. The confused room took a minute to ask itself the same thing. Despite this inner turmoil, Binley’s motivation to stand is to support Nigel Evans. ‘I am standing for Nigel and will step aside if he wants to return’. In the meantime, Binley promised to bring his 40 years of business experience to the chair as well as a touch of humility — how nice.
The other female running, Nadine Dorries (3 per cent), is also standing in the name of Nigel Evans as a self-described ‘IPSA warrior’. Dorries sees the Deputy Speaker as an alternative career path to the ministerial one, but will never ever run for Speaker. She was in awe of the more experienced candidates but vowed to be a fighter for the backbencher. ‘I think the backbencher who is speaking has a right to be heard with respect and dignity.’ Wonder who she might be referring to there? ‘I’ve always regarded myself as a bit of a champion of backbenchers.’ She insisted that a vote for her deputy speakership would be a vote to shut her up, which made an interesting pitch.
Gary Streeter (17 per cent) came across as probably the most normal, and most uncontroversial candidate. Recalling his days of shadowing Claire Short, numerous committee appointments, the Whips’ Office and being a PPS, Streeter has certainly ‘earned his spurs’. But beside his all this experience, there isn’t much of note to say. He would probably be a pretty solid chap, acting like a ‘good referee’. Getting on with the job, and not becoming the story.
A latecomer to the contest, Henry Bellingham (19 per cent) has rocketed up the bookies charts and made an impressive case. It’s easy to envisage him as a commanding figure from the chair: friendly helpful yet forceful. His schtick was to keep it simple and concentrate on helping his colleagues. There were more murmurings about John Bercow, but Bellingham said any disagreements would be taken up ‘in private’.
And finally, David Amess (4 per cent) came across as another decent chap, nothing more or less. Like many of the others, Amess is ‘in despair’ of how Parliament is viewed by the public. He deplores any kind of humiliation, pomposity and bullying. Cue another excuse for the resident jester Michael Fabricant to bring up relations with Speaker Bercow. ‘I knew him before he was an MP. I get on fine’, said Amess. That was that.
Find out the results of this enthralling election at 2pm tomorrow.