What should the Speaker of the House of Commons be like?

Speaker hopefuls set out stalls — BBC
The House of Commons is electing a new speaker. Who should it be? Actually, only members of parliament get to vote. But we, the public, can make it clear to our MPs what issues should decide them.

For the first time, the choice of speaker will be by secret ballot. That will make it hard to hold our MPs to account afterwards, but it will also ensure that the result is not fixed by deals between the party whips.

So what should the qualities of the Speaker be, and what should he or she stand for?

In previous years, the Speaker’s job seemed little more than crowd control for the rather indisciplined House of Commons. Carrying with it the guarantee of re-election (by common agreement, the other main parties do not field candidates against the Speaker), it was something of a nice job for a politician with a reasonable sense of public duty who recognised that they would not ever be in the cabinet.

Now, all has changed, and we look to the speaker to reform the House.

Qualities of the Speaker
Before anything else, we require the Speaker to be honest. This almost certainly means that we are looking for a Speaker who is honest about what they have done in the past. A candidate who claims never to have done anything questionable — whiter than white — is simply not credible. It is always the people with the strongest consciences who have the greatest recollection of what they have done wrong. No recollection is not a sign that the candidate is whiter than white, but rather a sign that they have lost the basic moral capacity of self-knowledge. But, equally, a long list of transgressions — a track record of failure — is not the right credential.

Second, we require the Speaker to be even-handed. A strongly partisan figure — one with a strong agenda from left or right, or on a particular issue, or who has been known to become quickly partisan on more general issues — is clearly not the right candidate.

Third, we are looking for a serious politician. Especially in these times, the Speaker must be able to command the respect of the members, and must be able to show that he or she has wrestled and grappled with all the issues that the best MPs grapple with, and that over many years.

These three qualities should apply to any Speaker at any time. But in these times, we also need the Speaker to take forward a particular agenda. More than anything else, we need a reforming speaker, who will completely satisfy the nation within a short space of time that MPs are being rewarded in a way which is transparent, commensurate with their activities, and gives the tax-payer good value for money.

Naturally, at this point, any speaker candidate will promise these things. Therefore, it is essential to look back at their record. How often have they voted for reform, what kinds of reform have they supported, have they ever back motions opposing it? They Work For You is an independent website which tracks MP’s voting records (you can also look in Hansard). MPs would be well advised to refresh their memories of how long and how well their Speaker candidates have in fact campaigned.

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