The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Posts Tagged ‘Speakership election’

Cheer Up, Conservatives

Posted by The Futility Monster on June 22, 2009 @ 21:44

"Congratulations to the new Speaker" says Political

"Congratulations to the new Speaker" says Political

Judging by the reaction on the Tory-dominated Political, one might think Arthur Scargill had just been elected Speaker of the House of Commons.

Of course, it’s not quite as bad as that. In defeat, we do all like to reach for the hyperbole, but I think that in time the wounds will heal. While I share a little of the doubt about the imminent prospect of Speaker Bercow, I do believe he will do a much better job than Michael Martin.

The beauty of his election that many people are missing, however, is that Bercow issued a manifesto, and a very detailed one at that. He gave out a laundry-list of pledges which it will be very easy to hold against him. Yes, I know, and I’ve said it already – it’s not down to him to implement them. That’s up to the rest of the Commons to have the bottle to vote for change.

But it does mean he can be held to account. Assuming the Tories will win the next election (a very easy assumption) – they will be able to rate his performance against his words. If he’s doing well, it will be very difficult for them to oust him. If not – they will have a very good argument to say “Look, we tried it – he didn’t deliver”. Because there are some things a Speaker can do right now – like having a go at ministers who announce their policies before Parliament. Including the Prime Minister.

And how John Bercow could easily demonstrate his independence by slapping down the Prime Minister. I wouldn’t put it past him, to be honest. Bercow has the ego to do it. He would enjoy being the centre of attention by taking such an action. It would earn him the necessary brownie points on the Conservative benches that he requires.

OK – he may not do something as big as this. But I’m willing to bet he’ll make some very speedy movement, and some large gestures, to prove he is going to be fair at the job, to prove the doubters wrong.

Maybe his expenses were rather high… and I suspect he’s going to have to go a bit further to justify them. After all, he wants to be more active in the media as Speaker. He is the first Speaker to be elected in the era where nothing less than full transparency will do. He is totally aware of that.

If he doesn’t master that fact, he will die by it.

So, Conservatives… it looks like a win-win situation to me!


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So Far, So Good

Posted by The Futility Monster on June 22, 2009 @ 18:27

On the face: very embarrassing

On the face: very embarrassing

Barring a dramatic reversal in the second round, the feared victory of Margaret Beckett will not happen.

Rejoice! For perhaps we are going to be freed from possibly the worst candidate.

But – wait a moment… John Bercow leading the way?

I don’t particularly dislike the man, but at the same time there’s something about him that makes me feel uneasy. A little too… smooth for my liking. I like a bit of rough in my candidate.

Nevertheless, four hopefuls are gone (including Richard Shepherd, for shame), and we will now test just how this exhaustive ballot system works. Assuming everyone voted for who they wanted to is a very big mistake in this kind of voting system. It’s very unlikely that people voted for their first preference because everyone likes to think of silly reasons to vote for other candidates in order to stop X, rather than give Y a chance.

The consequence will be that some of the candidates will see their support drop, despite the sudden availability of preference votes from eliminated candidates. For instance, voters for Alan Beith or Alan Haselhurst may realise the game is up and desert him. Alternatively, voters for John Bercow may decide to “lend” their vote to another candidate in an attempt to force someone else to finish last.

Or perhaps some MPs were complacent, not voting for their real preference because they didn’t think they needed it? That might explain Margaret Beckett’s surprisingly poor showing.

And in any case, no one knows who each MPs second preference is. We barely know who their first preferences were, but no one really thought to ask those who would admit it who they’d vote for in the event their candidate didn’t make it.

Whatever, it’s a horrible system – too much room for strategies and tactics rather than just straightforward votes for who the MP actually wants. Would be much better to do it all in one vote with instant run-off. The Alternative Vote, in other words.

But now, we return to the waiting…

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Who Will Be Speaker

Posted by The Futility Monster on June 22, 2009 @ 09:36

Around these parts, I’m not one for pussy-footing over predictions. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong. If I’m right, well – it simply reaffirms my genius.

Would you buy a used car from her?

Would you buy a used car from her?

Today, MPs will elect Margaret Beckett as their new Speaker.

The sad thing about my prediction is that it looks like I’m jumping on the bandwagon. After all, the wonderful people around Political Betting have spent the past few days reading tea leaves and inspecting rabbit entrails to see which way the wind is blowing. Wow, that really is a mixed metaphor. Anyway – they have generally come to the same conclusion.

But I assure you that from the moment Michael Martin was defenestrated, I have always thought Labour MPs would be out for revenge. For some reason, Labour MPs were very attached to “their” Speaker. He was “one of them”. We’re led to believe that they liked him because he came from a similar background to them, which is, of course, patent nonsense when most Labour MPs, and all future ones, are careerist politicians from very sensibly middle-class backgrounds.

Anyway – for whatever reason, Labour MPs had a sense of ownership with Michael Martin. He would look after them. He seems to have done a very good job, especially in terms of defending them from FoI until the inevitable. Oh, and that strange business involving a police raid on Parliament and an Opposition MP…

And now those whippersnappers in the Liberal Democrats and other opposition parties had the temerity to remove him!

It became very clear that Labour’s motives were questionable when the stories abounded about them wanting to vote for John Bercow – purely as a way to annoy the Conservatives who, apparently, aren’t all too enamoured with the chap.

Of course, it never crossed anybody’s mind at any point that we probably shouldn’t be playing politics with the chair of our Parliament – our legislature. Of course it didn’t. The Parliament is so ignored, so feeble, so emasculated, so impotent, that MPs won’t hesitate for a second to abuse the people’s only elected representation at a national level for such contemptible purposes.

But then John Bercow slipped out of the picture. It’s not clear why, but into the breach, curiously – considering she has been a frontbencher for a very long time, and showed no prior interest in the job – stepped Mrs Beckett. That there had, up to that point, been no other credible Labour candidate (sorry, Parmjit) should surely have made alarm bells ring. The field had obviously been cleared for her entry.

All of a sudden a big Labour beast emerges.

So we have the motive. We have the means. And today Labour MP’s will get the opportunity.

There is but one caveat. This is the first Speakership election under a secret ballot, with an exhaustive process of elimination, and nobody can possibly predict how that will affect the voting. The system was used electing the Conservative leader – and we all know how that went as David Davis’ declared supporters didn’t actually vote for him…

But let’s face it. Labour MPs are in the majority. They have suffered a defeat at the hands of the opposition when their Speaker got the boot. They have a respectable (in their eyes) candidate. They are completely out of tune with what the public wants (a “clean” candidate with no expenses taint). They obviously didn’t watch Question Time.

If they act as a unit, their choice will be unstoppable.

My prediction is that they will.

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Who Should Be Speaker

Posted by The Futility Monster on June 21, 2009 @ 20:06

For a start, let’s examine the field:

  • Margaret Beckett (Labour)
  • Sir Alan Beith (LD)
  • John Bercow (Conservative)
  • Sir Patrick Cormack (Conservative)
  • Parmjit Dhanda (Labour)
  • Sir Alan Haselhurst (Tory)
  • Sir Michael Lord (Another Tory)
  • Richard Shepherd (Yet Another Tory)
  • Ann Widdecombe (Getting bored yet?)
  • Sir George Young (I know I am)

In one fell swoop, I can dismiss 6 of them.

Margaret Beckett – too close to the government, not independent enough, no real idea of what it’s like to be a backbencher, no reformist credentials, possibly being installed for wrong, partisan reasons, and on, and on, and Ariston.

John Bercow – if rumours are to be believed, he doesn’t have the support on the Conservative benches. And Labour were thinking about about installing him for the sake of partisan bickering. That makes him a very Bad Idea.

Sir Patrick Cormack – sorry, Sir, but your “well rounded” candidacy (his words) is just a bit too modest for what the country needs. Oh, and I find his very proper pronunciation of “par-LEAH-ment” very annoying!

Parmjit Dhanda – has actually impressed me in the hustings. Maybe next time, or the time after that… but for now, too young, probably too inexperienced in Commons procedure.

Sir Alan Haselhurst – would have been good, but has been badly tainted by expense allegations.

Ann Widdecombe – would have been interesting to see her as Speaker, but purely out of morbid curiosity, rather than actually wanting to see it. But her “interim” status rules her out. 10 months isn’t enough time to do anything, making the whole affair rather pointless.

Now… with a little more examination, I can dismiss a couple more…

Sir Alan Beith – good reformist credentials, but, for purely partisan reasons, I don’t want the Lib Dems to lose such a good MP. Losing any MP is bad; losing Alan Beith would be a shame.

Would you like a young shepherd?

Would you like a young shepherd?

Sir Michael Lord – is a very decent candidate; would definitely have the authority to deal with the Commons from when I’ve seen him as Deputy Speaker. But I feel we can do better…

I’m left with a delicious dilemma between two excellent candidates: Sir George Young and Richard Shepherd.

Sir George Young has authority, gravitas, is well-versed in Commons procedures, and is something of a reformist. He supported a fully-elected House of Lords way ahead of the rest of his party. He’s been on the backbenches and a serious committee member for a very long time. In other words, he’ll do a very good job of standing up for the rights of MPs.

But there is something lacking. Something I alluded to in a previous post. Step forward Richard Shepherd. A serial rebel, with sheer bloody-minded independence. A man extremely knowledgeable about the history of the place. A man who stood up for Freedom of Information when all around him his spineless fellow MPs were trying to exempt Parliament from the FoI Act under the pretence of protecting constituents’ correspondence.

But what’s more – he understands that the Speaker is actually powerless; his hands tied by Standing Orders and conventions. That’s why I said it doesn’t really matter who becomes Speaker. He understands that the real problem is the Parliament is weak as hell. The executive (government) is totally dominant. He realises that real reform has to come from the backbenchers rising up and telling the government that this is our legislature. That they and they alone will decide what comes before it for discussion.

Richard Shepherd is beholden to no one. He has authority. He’d knock Margaret Beckett’s faux reforms (“the devil is in the detail” she said; translation: no change) into next week.  He’s consistently one of the lowest claiming MPs. He’s been a backbencher forever. He knows the frustration that all that entails. He could provide the leadership to change all that.

And that’s why he won’t win.  Like I said in the other post, it’s in no one’s interests to change anything too radically in Parliament.

So tomorrow, we will look at who will win…

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Buggins’ Turn

Posted by The Futility Monster on June 20, 2009 @ 16:14

Isn’t it remarkable how so many people come out with a level of prejudiced, ignorant rubbish regarding the Speakership? How many times have you heard this:

“Labour have had the last two Speakers. There’s a convention that suggests the Speaker should alternate between parties. This time, it’s our turn!”

It’s repeated so often that even Labour politicians think it’s true. Margaret Beckett, at the Hansard Society Speakership hustings said:

“there is a tradition that the Speakership alternates between the main parties… and should therefore go to a Conservative. That is a view that I have both held and advocated in the past”

For a person who has been around Parliament for such a long time that is a daft thing to say.

There is no such tradition. There is no such convention. Just because it appeared to alternate between 1965 and 1992, it doesn’t make it true. A cursory glance at the list of Speakers shows that there were also long periods in which the Speaker consistently came from the same party.

Do you think during the time four Tories were elected Speaker on the bounce from 1928 to 1965 the Tory party was saying, “The convention is that the Speaker always comes from the Conservative Party”? Cos, by Ms Beckett’s standards, that one could indeed be called a tradition!

No. Just as my sciencey-type friends say, “correlation does not imply causation”.

What if there was a third variable underneath it all?

Ladies and gentlemen, the answer is obvious. There is much more evidence to suggest that the convention actually is:

“The Speaker comes from the governing party”

From Until Speaker Party Party in Power
1921 1928 John Henry Whitley Coalition Liberal Coalition Liberal
1928 1943 Edward Algernon FitzRoy Conservative Conservative
1943 1951 Douglas Clifton Brown Conservative Coalition (Conservative PM)
1951 1959 William Shepherd Morrison Conservative Conservative
1959 1965 Sir Harry Braustyn Hylton-Foster Conservative Conservative
1965 1971 Dr Horace Maybray King Labour Labour
1971 1976 John Selwyn Brooke Lloyd Conservative Conservative
1976 1983 Thomas George Thomas Labour Labour
1983 1992 Bruce Bernard Weatherill Conservative Conservative
1992 2000 Betty Boothroyd Labour Conservative
2000 2009 Michael John Martin Labour Labour

In fact, with our shiny new variable, there is just one deviation since 1921 in 11 Speakership elections, when Betty Boothroyd was elected Speaker in 1992. It might have gone further back, but things start getting a little messy in terms of who belonged to which party. But even if it doesn’t, I think it would be much more fair to say that my convention is almost 90 years old.

No. The reason why the Conservatives suddenly want to convince everyone that there is a convention is that they’re desperate for the Speaker to be one of their own this time. And that is demonstrated by fact: there are seven Conservatives and just two Labour MPs gunning for the job.

Tory MPs are relying on the good faith of the Labour majority to show them some mercy this time.

Do you think Labour MPs will be feeling charitable after what happened to “their” Speaker?

Do bears shit in the woods?

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Might As Well Go To Richer Sounds

Posted by The Futility Monster on June 20, 2009 @ 10:58

There is much wailing and lamenting in the British blogosphere about how the current Speaker has presided over a terrible system which has left MPs forced to claim hundreds of thousands of pounds against their will because the rules required them to.

Seems like we need a new one of these

Seems like we need a new one of these

So much weeping. So much newsprint.

So little point.

The consequence: on Monday, the House of Commons will choose its new Speaker. Michael Martin, the incumbent for one more day, will jet off into the sunset and land somewhere in the House of Lords shortly after to claim his per diem attendance allowance. Don’t you worry – that trougher ain’t going nowhere.

Because, yes – Michael Martin does have to carry the can to a limited extent, and certainly his own expenses claims are rather dubious. But really, what could he have done about it? “Convention” didn’t allow him to speak out publicly. The hands of the Speaker are tied by centuries of traditions and dusty references to Erskine May and Standing Orders.

But Mr Speaker did not write any of those.

And the new Mr/Madam Speaker is going to be bound by all the same rubbish.

Changing the Speaker is not going to reform Parliament. Reform of Parliament can only come about if enough MPs vote to change the procedures.

In other words, it will take a concerted effort to bring about the necessary reforms that all the candidates are arguing for.

Is that likely to happen? To a limited extent, I expect we will be thrown some token gestures by our political class. Maybe they’ll allow petitions to be debated by a petition committee, instead of now when an MP can present them on the floor of the House for a few seconds, and then they disappear into the ether, until the government responds in writing that actually all is fine and dandy, thank you very much.

In other words, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Because the fundamental principle is that in the UK, the role of Parliament is to deliver the government’s majority to get its business through. Everything else is just window-dressing. As we saw, when MPs discovered they don’t even have the right to put a motion for debate to the House. Why would the government want to do anything to jeopardise it? And more to the point, why would the Opposition want to make their job after the next election more difficult?

Basically – will there be enough independent-minded backbenchers, who aren’t interested in satisfying their party leadership, to do anything about it?

No. Instead, they seem to think that electing a new Speaker will do the job for them. Hey, look we might put Anne Widdecombe in the Chair! Ain’t that a pretty sight! Talk about change for the better! That oughta keep you suckers placated for a while, eh.

They’re in for a shock. Cos we expect more from them than a gesture of a new Speaker. Because it really doesn’t matter who wins on Monday. They are just a small cog in the huge machinery of government.

Enough MPs have to have the bottle to completely rebuild the way Parliament works from the ground up.

Can’t see it myself.

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