Lib Dem candidate won’t stand against the Speaker after all

Yesterday the Bucks Herald reported:

Buckingham Constituency (Liberal Democrats) will be fighting the General Election on June 8th. This is the first time one of the three major parties has contested the seat since 2005, four years before John Bercow MP became the Speaker.

Their prospective parliamentary candidate is Sarah Lowes.

Sarah Lowes is a life-long Lib Dem voter who joined the party in May 2015, after the then leader Nick Clegg’s resignation speech inspired her to become an activist rather than an armchair supporter.

However, this has now been superseded by events. Today, Sarah Lowes took the decision to stand down in accordance with the convention that the main political parties do not oppose the Speaker.

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45 Comments

  • David Blake 26th Apr '17 - 6:18pm

    The Speaker should not have a constituency. He/she should be chosen at the end of a Parliament to serve in the next Parliament without a geographical constituency. That’s my tuppence worth.

  • That’s a great pity. I have observed Bercow being particularly patronising on the few occasions when he calls Tim to ask a question at PMQ’s.

    For heaven’s sake, convention be blowed. Democracy every time in Buckingham. If Sarah was Bercow’s only opponent she might even win it. Why should we be part of a respectability establishment stitch up ?

  • paul barker 26th Apr '17 - 6:27pm

    Pity, I have nothing against the speaker but we are Libdems, we dont do conventional surely ?
    Would be good to have more details on this story.

  • Did she not know about this ‘convention’ when she stood? And did the local party not know about it when they arranged the selection??

  • David Evershed 26th Apr '17 - 7:05pm

    Under the Lib Dem party constitution it is the local party that decides to stand a candidate. This was challenged by certain party officials but confirmed by the Federal Appeals Panel in 2015. The central party only has the power to de-select individual candidates as unsuitable.

    The party President confirmed in an email to the local party this February that this is correct and that in a meeting with the Region Chair, the English Party Chair and the Chief Whip, it was accepted and agreed that in the event of a snap election the Region would select a candidate in consultation with the Chair of the local party. This is what has happened and Sarah Lowes has been selected and included in the list of South Central candidates.

    If Sarah Lowes has stood down under pressure from someone then under the party constitution another candidate will be appointed.

    In the event that any Lib Dem officials frustrate the constitution then they are likely to be challenged in court.

    Better for the party if it complies with its own constitution than have a public fight in court which it will lose.

    As a matter of principle the party is in favour of democracy and voted to reform the Speaker system in the Power to the People paper at the Spring Conference 2014.

    The party is also a promoter of localism so it would be hypocritical not to observe its own constitution which requires the local party to decide whether or not to stand a candidate. Indeed the constitution actually requires the local party to stand a candidate.

  • We should not collude in the disenfranchisement of the people of Buckingham for a second time. Once was bad enough. Are the media really going to work themselves into a frenzy about Liberal Democrats standing against a serving Speaker? Maybe they will try. But will they get any traction out of it? Is Joe Public going to be so terribly outraged by the Liberal Democrats giving people a choice? The Speaker should have a non-territorial constituency. We have had these in years gone by. There used to be MPs representing Oxford and Cambridge Universities and Trinity College Dublin. Someone once suggested “St Stephens”. How about “Big Ben” or “Victoria Tower”.

  • Ian Patterson 26th Apr '17 - 8:16pm

    Up then down. We do not need any more candidate shenanigans this week!

  • Tony Greaves 26th Apr '17 - 8:19pm

    It does all seem to be rather a shambles.

  • I agree with David Blake.

  • Sesenco, that someone was former Liberal MP Clement Freud, had you forgotten or were you trying to be tactful?

  • David Blake is right. The idea that certain constituencies don’t get a proper MP for term after term is nonsense, and the idea that prospective politicians who live in that constituency are effectively barred from standing for their own constituency is plain not fair.

  • Martin

    I had genuinely forgotten.

  • Here we are not standing against Carolyn Lucas. Mistake?

  • Hear not here, another mistake!!

  • Mick Taylor 26th Apr '17 - 9:23pm

    Convention be hanged. Go Sarah!

  • Richard Fagence 26th Apr '17 - 9:49pm

    This is a disgrace. I agree with John Hemming. The ongoing bias of this Speaker against Liberal Democrat members in the chamber should have resulted in a robust challenge to his re-election. My belief is that, irrespective of the outcome of the general election, he will stand down as Speaker in the near future. For goodness sake, when is someone going to stand up and be counted in this party? I despair, I really do.

  • nigel hunter 26th Apr '17 - 10:31pm

    I trust this is the 3rd and last disaster to happen after Tim’s ‘sin’ and Ward. After his behaviour with the party SOMEONE should stand against him or has the higher echelons of the party been got at.

  • Oh, come on. Yes, the Speaker being unopposed is one of many stupid archaisms which persist in our political system. The fact remains that if we decided to try for a cheap win, on the basis that we alone were “clever” enough to play cheap tricks which nobody else played, then we would be condemned by all the media pundits as cheapsters. And rightly so.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 26th Apr '17 - 11:53pm

    Too much local autonomy on issues that require national policy.

    Convention re:speaker : do not field a candidate

    Decision re:racism: do not field that candidate !

    Would the national party like an adviser , I am hard up, and need the dosh !

  • David Evershed 27th Apr '17 - 12:06am

    At the instigation of the local Buckingham party the Lib Dem spokesperson for the constitution in the Lords arranged for a reformed Speaker arrangement to be put to the House of Commons Procedure Committee in 2011.

    This ‘St Stephens MP’ proposal is a longstanding idea that once MPs choose the Speaker he becomes the MPs MP and a by-election held in the new Speaker’s original constituency. MPs can then vote the Speaker out of office if they wish as they can now.

    The electors in the Speaker’s original constituency then have someone who can debate and vote on issues before parliament. For example, Buckingham’s MP has been unable to speak or vote on HS2 which drives right through his constituency.

    Unfortunately the Westminster MPs on the Procedure Committee rejected the proposal, giving preference to their parochial views rather than enfranchising the 78,000 constituents of Buckingham and Speaker constituencies in the future.

    Reform of the Speaker system has also been made Lib Dem policy at the 2014 Spring Conference in the ‘Power to the People’ policy paper.

    Without Westminster acceptance of the need for change, the local Buckingham party are left with the choice of trying to bring the issue to wider attention and giving their constituents a serious choice. Under the party constitution, the decision to stand a candidate in the constituency is the local party’s and the local party’s alone.

    Will approved candidates still seeking to stand please contact the South Central Region to offer themselves as a replacemnent PPC for Sarah Lowes in Buckingham, if they are happy to defend our Speaker position and prepared to stand up to unconstitutional pressure from party officials at HQ not to stand?

  • David Evershed 27th Apr '17 - 12:13am

    Note that this Lib Dem Voice article was originally attributed to Paul Walter. Paul denies writing the article and it is now been changed to be anonymous.

    I welcome the Lib Dem Voice open mike to correct its article about the decision not to stand a candidate, This is a decision for the local party and their decision is to stand a candidate.

    The local party was not contacted about the article and in the cause of transparency it would be good to know whose Voice is the source of the fake news.

    Certainly the local party was not aware of the PPCs change of heart until it was published here in Lib Dem Voice.

  • David Evershed 27th Apr '17 - 1:32am

    A history of election opponents to the Speaker is set out by David Boothroyd at
    http://vote-2012.proboards.com/thread/1007/speakers-opponents?page=3#page=1

    In February 1974 and October 1974 both the Liberal Party and the Labour Party put up candidates against Speaker Selwyn Lloyd, a former Conservative chancellor. The Liberal candidate was Michael Gayford who I understand is the father of current Lib Dem supporter and fund manager Nicola Horlick.

    In 1987 Julian Goldie was the Liberal/Alliance candidate who stood against Speaker Weatherill.

    The reference list stops at 2005 but in more recent times the SNP, UKIP, and the Greens have stood against the Speaker amongst other parties.

    Frequently the Speaker retires rather than stand in the election and there is no incumbant Speaker to oppose. So we have to go back some years to test the claims that there is a convention not to stand against the Speaker.

    The history shows that there is no convention.

  • @David Evershed: I edited the original article having been informed that Sarah had stood down to observe the convention. I was hurrying between meetings at the time and should have changed the author.

    I think to shout “fake news” is a bit of an exaggeration. It was a reasonable conclusion to draw given the information that I had.

    While I agree that the convention around the Speaker needs to be sorted out, I’m not sure that breaking it is the right way to do it. I know that if I were in your position, I wouldn’t be inclined to drop my Liberal Democrat MP colleagues in a potentially difficult situation. You may have the autonomy and you may have gone to great lengths to establish it beyond doubt. However, you don’t have to use it and distract from the most important elections we have ever had to face for the country.

  • Sue Farrant 27th Apr '17 - 8:36am

    We are astonishingly good at shooting ourselves in our liberal, yellow feet. We stand up for democracy then sit down quietly as soon as a Tory says something nasty to us.

    Of course we should be standing in the Speaker’s constituency instead of disenfranchising the voters there once again. I’d be furious if I lived in Buckingham – especially if I were a Sun reader and had read about the Lib Dem challenge in that rather unlikely newspaper.

  • David Becket 27th Apr '17 - 8:37am

    We all know the Internet is a dangerous place, comment are made on twitter that are repulsive and false, Facebook is used to display a murder and hackers are out to do damage. LD Voice is not immune. This article was not written by Paul and the local party was in the dark. We know that many of our contributors are not Lib Dems, and some may even wish the Lib Dems harm. We have activists spending time commenting on harmful articles like this and the David Ward story, and the campaign has only just started. I suggest purdah should be applied to this site immediately. If that takes the controllers of the site so much effort that they cannot campaign then it should be closed for the campaign. I do not like closing down free speech, but the potential for our enemies to cause damage indicates that this is a very serious issue.

  • “I know that if I were in your position, I wouldn’t be inclined to drop my Liberal Democrat MP colleagues in a potentially difficult situation.”

    What on earth does that mean and what might that be ?

    If this party’s HQ (unaccountable and behind closed doors) is prepared to be a fluffy tool of establishment convention then we all might as well pack up and go home. What hope is there of ever achieving or reforming anything ?

    The decision to fight should be left to the local party and to (the approved) local candidate.

  • @ David Becket I take your point, David.

    This matter needs to be clarified and cleared up asap. What is the true situation and who did what ?

  • David Evershed 27th Apr '17 - 9:33am

    Caron

    Thank you for changing the title from “Lib Dems won’t stand against the Speaker after all” which was factually incorrect.

    I can understand you have to keep your sources secret but double checking a story with the constituency party might be necessary in these fraught times.

  • Having campaigned in General Elections in nearby Wycombe I can tell you that the people of Buckingham are not very impressed with the ‘convention’ and that they feel excluded and disenfranchised. As has been said by others, the obvious solution is that if the speaker is to be unassailable, then he or she should be transferred to a notional seat. In the meantime I believe Buckingham were right to select a candidate, and it’s a shame that the good people of Buckingham are being denied the opportunity to vote for us in this historic election

  • Richard Underhill 27th Apr '17 - 10:47am

    Sue Farrant: The party colour has been gold since the days of the Liberal-SDP Alliance. Gold is for first place (pantine gold for printers). Any local party of any colour may decide to ask those who voted for them in local elections to vote for them again and should be allowed to do so.
    Modernisation of parliamentary procedures is desirable. Urgent Notice Questions have been allowed more often and helped to hold the government of the day to account. By calling the next contributor the Speaker has told even Prime Ministers to cease. David Cameron complained that ” I have not finished” and got the reply that “HE can take it from ME that he HAS finished” The current PM was curtailed this week, without complaint.

  • Richard Dean 27th Apr '17 - 12:56pm

    Yes, it seems crazy. But a civil servant might not have the necessary practical experience of refereeing these kinds of battles. Why not let the Speaker be elected by parliament and then either have a new by-election for that constituency, or allow the speaker’s party to appoint an alternative if their choice?

  • Please, please, please will somebody give me and the residents of the constituency of Buckingham the democratic right to cast a vote in the forthcoming General election for the party I wish to vote for.
    It is undemocratic to take that right away from me!

  • Lorenzo Cherin 27th Apr '17 - 1:44pm

    Caron

    Here, here !

  • R Halifax Beswick 27th Apr '17 - 3:09pm

    @Caron Lindsay Your suggestion is, I believe, the position that was taken by Party HQ prior to the 2015 GE, and mysteriously no candidate was allowed then, either, after all. I’m a Newbie (joined 8 months ago) and attended my first local AGM for the Bucks party a couple of weeks after joining up. My first question to the exec was, “Why couldn’t I vote for a Lib Dem in 2015?” …and had explained to me the whole sorry story. I find the issue APPALLING. It is utterly wrong, and illiberal, to deny our electorate a meaningful vote. I find myself in a position of having joined a party who’s values I thought I could trust, behaving in a manner that is anything BUT ‘open, tolerant and united’. Why should 78,000 constituents in Bucks be forced to support a person who cannot campaign for them, or vote on issues that matter to them, or even give them the kind of full time attention a hard working MP should do because of other full time responsibilities in the House? The protection of one MP’s career should not come at the cost of democracy, particularly when there are several other very reasonable ways of achieving a non-partisan Speaker in the House that does not leave the constituency without representation, or the Speaker a meaningful career. Moreover, our Party constitution supports this choice, and it seems to me immoral to have a number of faceless persons in the Party hierarchy putting their decision to obey tradition above the democratic rights of thousands of real people. The move to de-select Sarah Lowes was wholly wrong.

  • As a ‘person of Buckingham’, I wrote to the Speaker today. I would be delighted if others felt compelled to do the same and bring some pressure to bear on the system.

    I also wrote to Steven Lambert and Tim Farron (who is not my MP and will therefore doubtless be unable to respond. But these are frustrating times and some action was needed.

    My letter to the Speaker:

    Dear Mr. Bercow,

    You are my MP but your position as Speaker denies me a significant democratic right. The long-standing practice that other main parties should not field candidates against the Speaker of the House means firstly that the Speaker’s constituency is denied a broad local debate and secondly that constituents are denied the right to exercise their vote in accordance with their principles and their conscience.

    I cannot see how the position of Speaker can continue to be tied to a parliamentary seat if it so denies the fair implementation of democracy to so many. There are obvious solutions to this issue, which would protect both the position of the Speaker and the rights of voters. I would think it incumbent on the Commons to recognise the inequality the practice represents and to decide, as a House, to abolish it without delay.

    Yesterday, it was reported that a Liberal Democrat would indeed stand in Buckingham in the forthcoming election; it was just as soon reported that the candidate had decided to stand down due to parliamentary etiquette. I appeal to your good sense and to your sense of justice to seek to override this practice for the sake of fair, broad and rigorous debate – the right to which I would like to be able to trust Parliament to defend and uphold.

    I seek, from those with the authority to grant it, the guarantee to all voters an equal voice in the June election and I look to you, as my MP, to bring with some urgency this issue to the House

    Yours, etc…

    I would be delighted to hear from others that they are doing the same and I would be more delighted still to hear a guarantee from the party that they will field a candidate, no matter what.

  • I thought the whole point was that Mr Bercow wasn’t intending to be the Speaker for more than another year, after which he has potentially four more years as a Conservative MP. Elected without any serious opposition?

  • Phil Harriss 28th Apr '17 - 12:41pm

    Answering Ian’s comment above, if Mr Bercow resigns as Speaker, he would also resign from the Commons. The convention is then for him to go to the Lords and sit as a cross bencher. He had to resign from the Tory party in 2009. I’m hoping to bring an end to the ridiculous charade of ‘The Speaker’s Seat’ and have started an online petition: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/give-us-a-voice-not-a-speaker

  • Buckingham_resident 1st May '17 - 1:46pm

    Very encouraging to see the LibDems were keen to field a candidate to stand against John Bercow in Buckingham. I respect the decision of Sarah Lowes, after consideration, not to stand. However if another LibDem colleague were to stand in her place, he or she would get my vote this year. In 2010 Buckingham could easily have gone UKIP or BNP. We mustn’t allow that to happen – too dangerous, and very unrepresentative of the people of Buckingham. We also need and deserve a voice in Parliament. Please help us, LibDems! Thank you.

  • David Allen: as a non LIbDem I certainly would not see the LibDems standing as a cheap trick. Nor I suspect would most voters. The press being the press might try to make mischief but I suspect in most quarters giving the good people of Buckinghamshire a choice indeed a voice would be applauded. I hope you find another candidate to stand quickly.

  • Peter Watson 21st May '17 - 12:16am

    Private Eye has reported on this story this week:

    “She [Sarah Lowes] was talked out of this, but not by us,” said the local party’s official Twitter account, adding that the branch would face sanctions if it put another candidate forward.
    So it was especially galling for the local Lib Dems when leaflets from Bercow dropped through their doors last week featuring their own grinning leader Tim Farron saying: “I really hope people in Buckingham re-elect John Bercow to continue the modernisation and reform he champions as speaker.”

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