Should a Lib Dem be the next Commons speaker?

A rumour swept the political blogosphere last night that former Tory chancellor Ken Clarke is interested in becoming the next Speaker of the House of Commons (a position currently occupied by Michael Martin, and from which he is widely expected to stand down at the next election or sooner). Here’s Sky News’s Jon Craig:

My spy tells me he has heard that Ken has asked some of his mates to take soundings among Labour and Conservative MPs about the level of support he would receive if he ran for Speaker. … Ken Clarke has always said he would never retire from the House of Commons. “They’ll have to carry me out in a box!” he has said more than once.

The last time the position was vacant, two Lib Dem MPs – Menzies Campbell and Alan Beith – did put their names forward, though both were unsuccessful.

On a personal level, I’m sure all Lib Dem members would wish either candidate all the best if they wanted to throw their hats in the ring again. It’s a moot point how far their occupying such a position, prestigious as it is, would advance the party; though a reforming Speaker who wanted to transform Parliament into a participative democracy in which the public had a real stake would be a welcome, and liberal, change.

Incidentally, there seems to be some dissent about Commons convention relating to the Speakership. By tradition, it seems, the Speaker was appointed from the party in government at the time. Betty Boothroyd was the modern exception to this; her candidacy was supported by many Tory MPs acutely aware of how slender was John Major’s majority. But her election confirmed a more recent tradition, post-1965: that the role of Speaker should alternate between parties. For the record, the last Liberal MP to be Speaker was the Coalition Liberal John Henry Whitley (1921-28).

Labour MPs I’ve heard mentioned in connection with being Speaker include: Frank Field, Gavin Strang, Sir Gerald Kaufman, Bob Marshall-Andrews, Ann Clwyd, Tony Wright and Gwynneth Dunwoody. The Tories most often mentioned – to which list must be added now Ken Clarke – are Sir George Young, Sir Alan Haslehurst, Sir Michael Lord and Sir Patrick Cormack. (It’s not compulsory to be a knighted Tory to be considered for Speaker, but it seems to help).

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17 Comments

  • Perhaps she could be a voice from beyond the grave 🙂

  • Mark Littlewood 16th Oct '08 - 2:55pm

    Gwyneth Dunwoody might be dead, but she’d still be a lot better than the present incumbent.

    i think it would be fantastic to have a LibDem speaker. Ming Campbell would eb superb and i suspect he might be attractive to the Labour government too.

  • Wouldn’t mind Ken Clarke, but Gerald Kaufmann would be a terrifying prospect…

  • Liam Pennington 16th Oct '08 - 4:40pm

    If Michael Martin is considered partisan, just imagine what Gerald “My Prime Minister” Kaufmann would be like….

    I would support a LibDem Speaker…but do we have the right number of MPs with healthy enough majorities to be seen “giving up a seat” ?

    Were we REALLY radical and forward thinking, could we not suggest a member of parliament becomes “Member for St Stephens” or “Westminster” or whatever it is, causing a by-election in the original seat but keeping the Speaker as truely independent?

  • Ralph Perkins 16th Oct '08 - 11:17pm

    Sir Robert Smith for Speaker – it is a perfect match

  • Bob Marshall Andrews has said he is stepping down aftert this parliament

  • Clegg's Candid Admirer 18th Oct '08 - 7:13pm

    Ming would be an excellent Choice and I hope concerns about losing a seat will not stop the party supporting him. Ken Clarke would be fine as well. Bob Marshall Andrews would be excellent and could be a Labour ruse. It would save Medway from being the inevitable tory gain that it will be next time when he stands down. Also he could cause a lot of trouble for an incomming Tory Government.

  • Tony Greaves 18th Oct '08 - 7:51pm

    Why on earth would we want a LD speaker? It’s a position with no political clout and would be one less LD MP (and a seat to be lost when s/he retired).

    The idea that having a LD speaker would get a better deal for our lot in the COmmons is cloud cuckoo-land.

    Tony Greaves

  • Clegg's Candid Admirer 18th Oct '08 - 7:55pm

    Tommorrows ComRes Con 40 Lab 31 LD 16

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