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British MPs vote on new speaker after Bercow’s departure

By AFP - Nov 04,2019 - Last updated at Nov 04,2019

A still image taken from footage broadcast by the UK Parliamentary Recording Unit on Monday shows candidate for the position of Speaker of the House of Commons Edward Leigh speaking in favour of their candidature ahead of the vote in the House of Commons in London (AFP photo )

LONDON — British MPs began the selection of their new speaker on Monday to replace John Bercow, who enraged the government but won a global following with his parliamentary rulings on Brexit.

Seven MPs have put themselves forward to replace Bercow, whose shouts of “Order! Order!” have rung out across the house of commons since June 2009.

Lindsay Hoyle, Bercow’s deputy since 2010, is the odds-on favourite to fill his shoes but other political heavyweights are also vying for the job.

After Prime Minister Boris Johnson opened the process on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II, each candidate gave a short pitch before a series of secret ballots began.

The lowest scoring candidate will be eliminated each time before a winner secures more than half of votes, and can take their seat in the speaker’s raised green chair.

But he or she will not have too long to get comfortable as parliament will be dissolved late Tuesday for the December 12 election, after which they will return.

The winning candidate is expected to give up their party affiliation and is traditionally uncontested in general elections.


 Key Brexit player 


Chosing a new speaker has been an unremarkable event in the past, but Bercow became a key player in the tortuous process of Britain’s exit from the European Union.

With the commons divided over how, when and even if Brexit should happen, he oversaw more than three years of crucial debates that defined the course of Brexit.

His supporters say he has empowered ordinary MPs through granting time for emergency debates and amendments, which had the effect of tying ministers’ hands.

But critics accused him of subverting centuries of parliamentary tradition with the aim of frustrating Brexit.

Bercow, who was a Conservative MP before he took on the politically neutral role of speaker, has also been accused of failing to tackle a culture of bullying.

Last week, Johnson paid guarded tribute, likening Bercow’s glare to a “trademark Tony Montana scowl”, after Al Pacino’s character in the 1983 film “Scarface”.

Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn praised his modernising reforms, which included increasing staff diversity, boosting public access to parliament and switching from traditional robes to suits.

But it was his colourful personality and eccentric performances in parliament that gave him an international profile — and a significant following on social media.

A mash-up by German television of footage of Bercow calming rowdy MPs has been seen more than a million times. A Belgian newspaper called him “irreplaceable”.


Deputies jostle for promotion 


Hoyle has been a Labour MP for 22 years and was Bercow’s deputy from 2010, since when his distinctive Lancashire accent has rung out from the speaker’s chair.

The 62-year-old is as unimpressed as his predecessor by the shouting and braying from MPs, once chastising Scottish Nationalists for humming the EU anthem “Ode to Joy” in the chamber.

Hoyle pledged in an interview published in The Sunday Times — in which he introduced his parrot “Boris” — to repair what he claims has become a “toxic parliament”.

“I don’t want the abuse of each other and I think we have got to close that down quickly and make sure it is a calmer place to be,” he said.

His closest rival appears to be veteran Labour MP Harriet Harman, parliament’s longest-serving female MP.

She entered the commons in 1982 and served as the Labour Party’s deputy leader from 2007-2015, leading the party twice, in 2010 and 2015, between leaders.

The former justice minister is known for her ardent feminism and has been a long-time crusader on social justice issues.

Bercow’s number two deputy, Eleanor Laing, is also in the running.

The 61-year-old Conservative entered parliament in 1997 and previously served as the party’s spokeswoman on Scotland.

One of the more colourful characters in contention is former Church of England vicar, and now Labour MP Chris Bryant.

The openly gay 57-year-old’s civil partnership ceremony in 2010 was the first held in the houses of parliament.

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