William Hague’s shabby and botched attempt to unseat a great reforming Speaker

John Bercow, the Speaker  Image credit: bbc

John Bercow, the Speaker
Image credit: bbc

The Speaker of the House of Commons is someone the public recognise. Every week while Parliament sits he is seen on TV controlling the bear garden that is  Prime Minister’s Questions.. His role is like a strict disciplinarian headmaster trying to control overgrown adolescents shouting down and jeering their opponents like kids in a school playground.

But John Bercow is more than that. He is probably the best known speaker since  former Tiller girl Betty Boothroyd  became a hit in the United States with her unique smack of authority in a British Parliament. And he has made big changes that are good news for democracy and the public.

It was therefore deeply depressing  early on Wednesday evening when I was rung up by a very trusted source to tell me about a shabby plan to unseat him by changing the election rules for the next Parliament in May without people realising what was going on.

The master minds behind the plans appear to be William Hague, leader of the House and Michael Gove, the chief whip aided and abetted by Greg Hands, the deputy chief whip, and Cameron’s nasty Aussie election strategist, Lynton Crosby. The Liberal Democrats under Nick Clegg also agreed to the ruse.

My source told me that throughout the day Tory MPs had been sent three texts by the whips designed to ambush Labour and push through an arcane rule change in Parliament which would mean curtains for Bercow. It told them that a plan to send hundreds of Tory MPs to canvass voters in the marginal seat of Hastings and Rye, held by Amber Rudd, had been cancelled and they all had to turn up  on a three-line whip ( Parliament’s on pain of death) to hear Lynton Crosby outline their general election strategy in Portcullis House at 10.30 am.

What it didn’t tell them was that the order of business had been changed at the last moment and an obscure report changing the election rules of the next Speaker – traditionally elected by a public vote – would be debated in the Chamber. They proposed to change this to a secret ballot so ministers could get rid of him without their votes being recorded.The plan was for the  debate to take place while Crosby was briefing Mps  and the vote to take place at 11.30 am just as all Tory MPs  were leaving the briefing. They would march in the lobby to vote on William Hague’s motion without really knowing what it said. And Labour MPs would know nothing about the shabby deal – most having returned to their constituencies- and government would  have got rid of Bercow.

But then my trusted source got to work – and I tweeted and briefed a few papers and broadcasters- and it began to unravel. For a start the very independent minded  Tory MP, Charles Walker, who chaired the procedure committee found his report had been hijacked by Hague. Furthermore it did not recommend voting changes in the election of a Speaker –  the two Tories on the committee who wanted it  – Sir Roger Gale and James Gray  – had been soundly defeated.  They then agreed to accept  the status quo  and the report was unanimous agreed. So Hague was being dishonest as well as sneaky. by proposing the change as it was not recommended by the report. And James Gray, to his credit, appeared so disgusted with Hague’s behaviour that he voted against the government.

Then it is clear that Angela Eagle,shadow leader of the house got wind of the deal and started summoning Labour Mps back and stopping the rest leaving. And Mr Bercow realised what the plot was about and suddenly granted two urgent questions on matters of policy which delayed the timing of the debate and the vote.

By the time it was debated yesterday the sneaky little proposal fell apart as there enough Labour Mps back in Parliament and enough Tories and Liberal Democrats rebelled to defeat the government by 26 votes.. But it had been a close run thing. Some 23 Conservative and 10 Liberal  Democrat MPs revolted. Scroll down this to see the debate and vote.

This is scandalous for two reasons. Parliament’s committee of MPs are independent of government and had proposed a completely different motion to be debated.. Hague had no business changing the findings of an independent committee.

And  Bercow himself is a good thing. He has made ministers far more accountable for their actions by forcing them to come to Parliament to justify decisions – on one issue we have had on this blog Theresa May has been far more scrutinised by MPs on the  child sex abuse inquiry because Bercow forced her to come to Parliament  by accepting urgent questions from MPs.

The coalition ministers hated this aspect of democracy because it was last minute and inconvenient They much preferred a  supine Parliament. On that issue alone people should think about how they cast their vote on May 7.

13 thoughts on “William Hague’s shabby and botched attempt to unseat a great reforming Speaker

  1. in huge agreement – had earmarked this for blog based on FT’s Conservatives kick off UK election campaign with own goal

    and will quote you – or perhaps focus on you and quote FT! No time to digest and decide at present.

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  2. My criticism and censure is not that the Tory Government decided it wanted to prevent Speaker Bercow from being automatically re-elected to the next Parliament but the cowardly unscrupulous sneaky underhanded and cowardly way in which it was attempted and this reveals the true character and vicious aspect of party politics.

    Fortunately it contrasts with the approach of Home Secretary Teresa May, decision to take on the police, the security services and persist with the Child abuse inquiry

    Yesterday was also significant for the earlier urgency question on the spying on Labour Members of Parliament by the Security services with jack Straw claiming he was unaware which suggests the Orders came from number 10. This however begs the question why individual MPs were under investigation without their knowledge.

    More attention needs to be directed at the sweethearts relationships which existed on Merseyside and I understand existed generally in which it was agreed between Chief Constables and Council Leaders as well as between governments and the ACC and Met that whenever allegations surface there would be informal alerts and consultation over action to be taken or not.

    I have been surprised that so little attention has been given to the revised Terms of Reference of the Statutory Inquiry with the first overall interim report scheduled for 2018 and the absence of a final report date which suggests to me this could extend beyond the next Parliament.

    I also hope Freedom of Information inquiries will be made to the IPCC for a list of all self or other referrals into the way previous inquiries were investigated by other police forces in England and Wales.

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    • Jospehgrech well they left out investigating the spooks and private companies
      in the terms of reference tell you anything?

      Funny cops spying on lefties but not paedo politicians. Sums up what robert Armstrong said about security took precedence over anything else even abuse of children
      Ironic too since he was present at cabinet meeting when Kincorra abuse was brought up there.

      That’s,how they saw it silence all the abuse stuff at Kincorra because it impinged upon security matters

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      • If the notion of “security” justifies the abuse of society’s most vulnerable members, children who have been entrusted into the care of the state, then we can’t be talking about “national security” as such.

        The “security” that those in charge of the organs of the state ensure when they systematically condone misdemeanours committed by a less vulnerable section of society against a more vulnerable section is “preferential security”.

        It’s chilling, if not unexpected, to know that the highest servant of the state believes that his most important constitutional responsibility is to support the principle of inequality before the law.

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