Friday, February 19, 2010

The battle for the Speaker's constituency

A brief respite from the grind to illuminate on one of the more unusual electoral contests...

The situation is familiar. There was an election for the post of Speaker of the House of Commons at a time when partisan feeling was strong. Many in the main opposition party believed they were soon going to enter government. Some wanted the new Speaker to be one of their own. But many government backbench MPs had different ideas. And they prevailed, with their preferred candidate winning narrowly. The result was a big controversy, with partisan feeling spilling over from the Commons and the Speaker facing an unusual challenge in their constituency. And then...

Sound familiar? Well contrary to what you may be thinking, that isn't a description of John Bercow's situation to date but rather of that of William Gully, who was elected Speaker in 1895. (And you can even read a report of the full Commons debate at The election of Speaker courtesy of Hansard 1803-2005.)

The level of partisan feeling surrounding that election frankly dwarfs anything from recent times - and no, a handful of individual MPs still whining on about Bercow are not going to reverse that anytime soon.

What is notable though is that Speaker Gully faced a contest in his own constituency (Carlisle) at the 1895 election when it was the norm for the Speaker to be returned unopposed. (From 1935 onward this has changed. Forget the myth of the main parties not opposing the Speaker, Labour have opposed non-Labour Speakers at nearly every relevant election to date.) So if history repeats itself as it so often does, does this mean that Nigel Farage's (and Bercow's critics') hopes of an upset have anything to support them?

No. In an election when the country swung heavily the other way, Gully held his seat. The result was as follows:

Electorate 6,798
Turnout 85.8%

W.C. Gully (Lib) 3,167 52.6% -0.6%
S.P. Foster (Con) 2,853 47.4% +0.6%

Majority 314

Of course it may be the case that things turn out differently this time. Who knows?


Paul Burgin said...

Ah but did Labour field a Candidate against Speaker Weatherall?

Tim Roll-Pickering said...

Yes. So too did the SDP.


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