Last week was pre-occupied with the campaign to become the next Speaker of the House of Commons. Due to the exigencies of newspaper deadlines, this article for my local paper has to be filed before the race has ended. I am not qualified as a clairvoyant, but I have consulted the odds with the bookies. If they are right, I will be continuing to write articles for the local paper for some time to come, and my footwear will remain unadorned by buckles. Tempting though the odds were, I deemed it prudent not to have a flutter, though I did notice that one bookie had taken bets to the tune of £2000 on the Rt Hon Member for North West Hants.
The week was dominated by a series of hustings, at which the ten candidates laid out their wares. This is a new phenomenon; when I was first elected and there was a vacancy for the Speaker, there was a puff of white smoke from the Whips’ office, and Selwyn Lloyd was gone and George Thomas had grown a wig. And, as it turned out, he was a very sensible choice. This time, transparency ,accessibility and interaction are the political imperatives and we have all been on parade. The good news was that the events were good-natured and good-humoured, and devoid of personal animosity. We now know much more about each other than we did at the beginning.
Each time, we draw lots to see in what order we appear and we applaud each other politely when each speech ends. I have observed what might be called an evolutionary phenomenon. At the first hustings, it was clear that a number of proposals found favour with the audience. So, at the next one, whoever was drawn first in the ballot would be tempted to adopt those very propositions. And so the process developed during the week. Indeed, by the end, we risked merging into one composite candidate, which would have made the final choice an even more difficult one for the colleagues when the final hustings took place in the Chamber.
This time, there is one important change. In 2001, there was an open ballot so it was clear who had supported whom. This time the ballot is secret. Whoever wins may find that the numbers of those who say they had pledged their support might exceed the number who had actually voted for the winner.