The race to succeed John Bercow: what the runners and riders are pitching

Posted On: 
9th September 2019

John Bercow has sensationally announced he will stand down as Speaker by 31 October after more than a decade in the Chair.

Speaker John Bercow announces that he will stand down during an an impassioned speech in the House of Commons
Credit: 
House of Commons/PA Wire/PA Images

Addressing MPs this afternoon, Bercow said; “At the 2017 election, I promised my wife and children that it would be my last. This is a pledge that I intend to keep.

“If the House votes tonight for an early general election my tenure as speaker and MP will end when this parliament ends.

“If the House does not so vote I have concluded that the least disruptive and most democratic course of action would be for me to stand down at the close of business on Thursday October 31.”

The surprise news comes after the passing of the bill seeking to extend the Article 50 deadline, after Bercow once more granted an emergency debate to pave the way for MPs to block a no deal exit.

Much will be written about the legacy of Speaker Bercow – including by me – but for the time being, thoughts are turning to his successor.

Over the last two years, The House magazine has interviewed a handful of would-be candidates vying to replace him in one of the most powerful positions in Westminster.

In February, Dame Eleanor Laing, one of three deputy speakers, became the first to throw their hat into the ring to replace Speaker Bercow. The Conservative MP told The House: “I will try to become Speaker when he finally decides to go. I am fortunate to have had five years’ experience in the Speaker’s chair. There is a lot to be done to take our democratic system onto the next stage.” She argued that too much testosterone in the Chamber has made set piece events such as PMQs overly “aggressive”.

Chris Bryant, the Labour former minister, is another to have set out his intention to run. In an interview with The House, the backbencher argued the next Chair must “tend to MPs’ wounds”, arguing “we’ve all been a bit bloodied and bruised of late”. The MP for Rhondda possesses a healthy knowledge of Commons procedure and is a regular fixture during parliamentary debate.

Pete Wishart, the longest serving SNP MP who acts as the party’s shadow leader of the House, is also running for the top job. One of the more organised candidates, he even set out a manifesto for the Speakership. The former rockstar has pledged to introduce electronic voting, allow clapping and relax clothing restrictions amid myriad of other proposals. The full interview with The House is here.

Sir Edward Leigh, the Conservative backbencher, is standing on a more traditional platform. He told me he had no illusions about his chances. But he added: “I obviously will try to win. It’s a serious option.” Sir Edward is opposed to a full decant of parliament as part of the restoration and renewal plans, and has vowed to be a “very traditional” chair who “wouldn’t speak much”.

All eyes will be on Harriet Harman, the Labour grandee, who is rumoured to be mulling a bid. In March 2018, she told The House magazine she would “consider” standing when Bercow stood down. Harman would arguably the most high-profile candidate in the race, with a storied ministerial career.

But the frontrunner will be Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the most senior of the three deputy speakers. The Labour MP – a popular fixture in Westminster – has been talked up as the most likely successor to Bercow for several years. A stickler for due process, Hoyle said he would not announce his candidacy until his boss departed. “When I watch athletics and you watch the race, they all get down to set off, you have a starting gun and you always get false starts. I think there’s been a few false starts so far,” he told The House in May. “There is no vacancy. Of course, when the Speaker decides to go, he will go and if there is a race set up, yes, I may well enter that race. But I’ll certainly wait for the starting gun first.” Hoyle, however, did set out his views on improving security in parliament and wants to see an expansion of the in-house wellbeing services.