Forget the leadership – the real fight is to be deputy speaker

The real cognoscente election of the moment is that for the Labour deputy speakerships.

It is hard to get worked up about the leadership election.  So many months.  So few differences.

And the shadow cabinet election, not scheduled to happen till after the new leader is anointed, remains a little abstract.  (The emerging theme, though, is of a bizarre mass election in which more members of the PLP stand than don’t.)

But the first ever deputy speakership election is interesting.  Ostensibly, it is part of the revolutionary change sweeping Parliament in the wake of the expenses crisis. In fact, exactly the same people will be elected to exactly the same unsung jobs chairing Parliament’s unseen hours as would have been appointed anyway.

The rules are rather complex.  For the obsessed, Rob Gibson has set them out in his useful Gallery News subscription email.

In short, there are three deputy speakers, of which the main one – the Chairman of Ways and Means – will be Labour, as will one other.  And one will be a woman, though MPs don’t have to vote for a woman.  The STV shuffle will take care of it.

The Labour candidates are Lindsay Hoyle, the backbencher’s backbencher from Chorley; George Howarth, a former minister and privy councillor with the largest majority in the country; Dawn Primarolo – “red Dawn” in her early years – one of the select band who was a minister for all 13 of the Labour years; and Tom Clarke, a Scottish MP since 1982 and a councillor for 18 years before that.  Bradford’s Marsha Singh is telling people that he intends to stand, but has yet to show much sign of it.

Clarke was first out of the blocks, writing to MPs before the election asking for their support in the deputy speaker election which would greet their return.  From his rock solid seat in Coatbridge, this was a canny move. (Backstairs legend of the Parliamentary bars, John Lumsden, used to say that “you could put up a cat in Coatbridge and they’d vote for it as long as it was Labour”).

Not so canny was Dari Taylor, who wrote in similar terms before the election, but lost her seat in Stockton South by 332 votes.  Local opponents claimed that the letter, in assuming the result, took the electorate for granted.

No such hubris for Lindsay Hoyle, who held the bellweather seat of Chorley by 2,593, having kept his counsel till after the poll.  Once returned, though, he soon wrote.

With the safest Labour seat in the country, George Howarth had no need to by shy, but also saved his letter till after the election.

Dawn Primarolo has the least need to write.  As the only woman candidate on either side, she is elected automatically. Nevertheless, she does require at least one vote, so thought it only polite to ask for it.

Tea room gossip is that other potential female candidates – such as Anne McGuire and Joan Walley – were discouraged from standing.  It’s not quite clear by whom or why.

Most deputy speakership contenders have kept out of the leadership race.  The only one to nominate is George Howarth, who came out early for David Miliband.  This was generally seen as a strange move in an election in which the rights of the backbencher and the glory of the chamber are everything – the leadership being almost the enemy.  Though his nomination would make sense, according to a rival, “if he had traded it for votes”.

The Tory candidates are the media-friendly backbencher Roger Gale, the flamboyant and popular Nigel Evans and the grandson of a former Speaker, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown.

But it’s on the Labour side that the battle promises to be lively, with Hoyle, Howarth and Clarke slugging it out for one place.  All three are different kinds of seasoned and wily.

Tom Clarke used to get elected to the shadow cabinet in the old days through just the kind of schmoozy coalition building that he’ll need in the next two weeks.  Lindsay Hoyle doesn’t so much as call a spade a spade as squeeze the spade by throat until it chokingly admits that it’s a spade.  And George Howarth is not as gentle as he seems.

Forget the leadership.  The contest for this questionable prize is where the real action is.

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3 Responses to “Forget the leadership – the real fight is to be deputy speaker”

  1. Richard Clark says:

    As someone who worked on Dari Taylor’s campaign, I can categorically tell you that the fact she was considering running for deputy speaker was never brought up by her opponents or constituents. She never took the electorate or the election for granted, but was massively outspent by the Tories. if you know who these “local opponents” are, please name them, otherwise you are simply casting aspersions on someone with no evidence.

  2. I like the Lib Dem rule when there are quotas in elections – there have to be at least twice as many women candidates as the quota for the quota to come into force. So Dawn would want another woman to stand (which would activate the quota) instead of wanting to prevent them standing.

  3. Andrea says:

    “Tea room gossip is that other potential female candidates – such as Anne McGuire and Joan Walley – were discouraged from standing. It’s not quite clear by whom or why.”

    Walley is now running for a Select Committee Chairmanship (Environmental Audit)

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