Letter from Westminster 26.06.09

It is a little known fact that the House of Commons starts its business every day with prayers. These take the same form every day and include an entreaty for us not to be motivated by a desire to please or unworthy ideals. Curiously the house did not have prayers at the start of business on Monday as it met to choose the new Speaker. Doubtless there will be a reason for that which has long since been lost in the mists of time.

It was, in any event, probably just as well as the process which follow­ed saw more bluffs, double bluffs and complex political strategies than you would have ever believed pos­sible. Basically it went something like this. A lot of Labour MPs were backing John Bercow because they thought that it was time to have a Tory Speaker, but wanted to have one that would be acceptable. Some Conservative MPs were backing Sir George Young because they thought he was the Tory most likely to beat John Ber­cow, whom many of them hate with a passion. Meanwhile the govern­ment whips’ office was campaigning on behalf of Margaret Beckett, thinking that if they could engineer a final run off between her and Sir George they could achieve a third consecutive Labour Speaker. Add to this mix a further seven can­didates who probably were unlikely to be successful but who all had agendas to pursue in standing.

Through all this I was trying to plot a course of identifying where the best interests of parliament lay and supporting them. Ultimately I settled on supporting John Bercow, who I believed would be best placed to promote the interests of the House of Commons in holding the government to account, and most likely to lead a much needed and long overdue agenda of reform for the Commons. I hope I was right.

Our new Speaker is an interesting character. I first came across him in the 1980s when he was then a leading light in the very right wing Federation of Conservative Students. Had you told me then that I would one day be a Lib Dem MP supporting him for the Speakership I would have laughed for a whole range of reasons. Speaker Bercow has been on something of a political journey and has changed his views on a number of issues, most notably on equality of oppor­tunity and immigration. He is some­one I have worked with on a number of issues. A few years ago I was trying to get all-party support for Sakchai Makao’s campaign to fight deporta­tion. I struggled to get Conservative MPs prepared to support publicly a Thai national who was facing de­porta­tion because he had committed a serious crime. John Bercow did not need to be asked twice. Once the full story was given to him he gave his support and the campaign could claim all-party support. I don’t ex­pect that there are many votes to be had in Buckingham by supporting a Thai Shetlander so I can only assume he was doing what he believed to be right. That is the sort of person I am happy to have in the Speaker’s chair.

Alistair Carmichael MP


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