Monday, December 14, 2009

The Speaker’s plans to avoid the Farage threat in Buckingham

Quite incredibly, John Bercow is plotting the creation of a new constituency.

It will not be subject to boundary reviews; it will not be affected by the ebb and flow of popular opinion, even a political landslide; and it will have no members of the general public as constituents.

Speaker Bercow plans to create the constituency of ‘St Stephen’s’, which will have only MPs as its ‘constituents’.

On the face of it, this is an audacious move to avoid a likely election defeat at the hands of Nigel Farage. By focusing on Buckingham, the Speaker’s constituency, UKIP are in with their strongest chance of winning their first Westminster seat.

And Speaker Bercow knows it.

Especially after his wife’s tirade against David Cameron, and the news that her name has been added to the approved list of candidates for the Labour Party.

There are one or two Tories in Buckingham more than a little tempted to vote Farage at the next General Election.

The problem with the idea of the constituency of St Stephen’s is that Cranmer essentially agrees with it.

It was the sort of thing he had in mind when he wrote some months ago about the Speaker’s ‘electoral immunity’.

Presently, the Speaker’s constituents usually have no choice at a general election as the other main parties traditionally do not stand against him or her (though there are precedents).

While there may be concerns over not having the Speaker accountable to the people, it must be a lesser evil than disenfranchising the Speaker’s constituents from the democratic process altogether.

The problem will be the perception of the re-emergence of the Rotten Bourough.

And precisely what the mechanism will be for appointing a new Speaker if one is despatched in the fashion of Speaker Martin. There could be quite a few entertaining by-elections in the constituency of St Stephen’s as the Speaker would be subject to the perpetual threat of ‘recall’ if he or she does not please his or her constituents – all of the time.


Anonymous pedant said...

Steady on Your Grace. Paddy Power's offering 4-1 on Mr Farage at Buckingham. Please don't interfere with the horses.

14 December 2009 at 10:45  
Blogger Gnostic said...

Your Grace, why on earth should the Speaker have electoral immunity that no other MP has? Given the dire performances of the two most recent ones surely it should be up to the electorate whether they stay or go?

14 December 2009 at 11:04  
Blogger Archbishop Cranmer said...

Mrs Gnostic,

It is not ideal. But it is the lesser evil. How have the electorate of Glasgow North East been served by not being able to vote against Speaker Martin?

The constituency has a scandalous 30 per cent unemployed and claiming benefits; life expectancy in the poorest areas is just 60.2 years – worse than Bangledesh, Iraq and Uzbekistan. Several primary schools are facing closure, healthcare is manifestly deficient, and poverty abounds.

And yet for the past decade the people have been denied their right to vote for change because of the tradition of the main parties not to stand against the Speaker. Since one cannot force parties to put up candidates where they do not wish, an alternative has to be found to grant people a degree of democratic participation.

14 December 2009 at 11:18  
Blogger Gnostic said...

Your Grace, tradition is not law. An incumbent speaker should take his or her chances along with everyone else. Disenfranchising voters by not standing against a Speaker is disgraceful and giving them their own "constituency" is a travesty.

What, exactly, makes Speakers so sacrosanct and above the democratic process? Other than tradition of course.

14 December 2009 at 11:33  
Anonymous circus monkey said...

Politics in this country seems to have descended to the level of the Mad Hatter's Tea Party with the supine British public cast as the sleeping Dormouse. Any nominations for the Mad Hatter/s?

14 December 2009 at 11:36  
Blogger Archbishop Cranmer said...

Mrs Gnostic,

His Grace agrees with you. But whilst it remains convention that the main parties do not stand against the Speaker, having him or her accountable to St Stephen's is better than not having him or her accountable to (or challengeable in) any constituency at all.

The Speaker should not be above democratic accountability. The problem is that at the moment (pace Mr Farage), he is.

14 December 2009 at 11:38  
Blogger ukipwebmaster said...

Just what we all need.
Another unelected nincompoop making our lives a misery.

14 December 2009 at 11:44  
Anonymous martin sewell said...

Although the main parties may not chose to stand against the Speaker, others can and do and that surely is all the democratic mandate requires?

14 December 2009 at 11:48  
Blogger Archbishop Cranmer said...

Mr Sewell,

The choice between voting for Speaker Martin or (say) the BNP is not democracy. Minority parties in FPTP are indeed a wasted vote (pace Mr Farage). If one is a Conservative in Glasgow North East, one has been disenfranchised for a decade.

Democracy demands choice. The convention in the UK has been to offer the voters in the Speaker's constituency no (real) choice.

14 December 2009 at 12:00  
Blogger Sui Juris said...

It is not true that there is any real convention of electing the Speaker unopposed.

Martin was opposed both in 2001 and in 2005 by the SNP (not a minor party in this context - they now hold the seat). And of the last eight occasions in which a sitting Speaker has sought re-election he or she has always been opposed: on three occasions by nationalists (the other one being George Thomas opposed by Plaid Cymru in 1979); on three occasions out of seven by their main national opponents (Weatherill in 1987 and Selwyn Lloyd twice in 1974); and on two occaisions by minor parties only (Betty Boothroyd in 1997 and King in 1970).

In fact all these Speakers were re-elected, but that was up to the voters! The conclusion is that in many cases they did not feel disenfranchised. It occurs to me that a Speaker might even be quite a good contsituency MP: he might not be able to speak in the House but he will have a great deal more leverage with ministers than the average backbencher does. Meanwhile the chance that the Speaker's party affiliation would change the election result is slight. This was so even in the case 1974 - and in any case Wirral was a safe Conservative seat at the time. Meanwhile the chance of electing a Conservative in Glasgow NE is low, I would say, whether standing against the Speaker or anyone else.

My conclusion: let Speakers be elected and opposed as the parties and the voters choose, just like everybody else. This is the real "convention". And if one were defeated (deo volente), let the House choose someone else to be Speaker.

14 December 2009 at 12:18  
Blogger Gnostic said...

Your Grace, in that case isn't it about time the major political parties dumped this ridiculous tradition? Oh wait, I just remembered that the last shred of democracy and common sense was flayed alive before the Woolsack long ago. My mistake...

14 December 2009 at 12:20  
Blogger Rebel Saint said...

Archbishop Cranmer said... "Minority parties in FPTP are indeed a wasted vote (pace Mr Farage)"

For the first time in a long time, I think your views are complete nonsense Your Grace. Votes are never wasted. What you are in effect saying is that any vote that is not for the winner is wasted. What a fatalistic point of view. So all those of us whose views are not represented by the winning candidate might as well just stay at home and not vote at all rather than cast a vote? Maybe they should introduce new rules that allow only 2 parties to stand in any constituency.

A wasted vote is one placed for someone who does not broadly represent your views. In my mind this means a vote for any of the main 3 parties is a complete waste.

Vote for who you believe in and be damned all those who - by repeating the 'you're wasting your vote' mantra - perpetuate this farcical merry-go-round we currently have.

14 December 2009 at 12:23  
Anonymous Knighthawk said...

From the Daily Mail:
Ordinary members of the public would not be allowed to be 'constituents' of the Speakers St Stephens seat.

Why stop there. I sometimes wonder why politicians suffer the inconvenience of constituents at all. Democracy demands real choice, yet the Lib/Lab/Con establishment is conspiring against radical competitors by trying to bankrupt UKIP and squeeze the BNP back in its box. We might as well all abstain and let the Political Class perpetuate themselves. With the EU stranglehold it doesn't matter a damn anyway. Our democracy is as good as dead, throttled by the Political Class it spawned.

14 December 2009 at 12:23  
Blogger Maturecheese said...

Your Grace,

A vote for a minority party is downright essential in my opinion and not a wasted vote. The big three have utterly disgraced themselves and proved themselves not fit for purpose. On the whole, they have enriched themselves and failed to ensure the best interests of their people and country.
It is imperative that voters turn to UKIP,LPUK or BNP at the next election because if we don't, we deserve everything we get.

14 December 2009 at 12:33  
Blogger The Anti Christ said...

Lazy politics at best, and absolute bloody nonsense at worse.

14 December 2009 at 12:41  
Blogger Daniel1979 said...

So the Speaker is in favour of establishing a rotten borough to safeguard his job, but what I don't understand is who exactly is expected to give up their vote in their home constituency so as to be able to cast a vote in St Stephen?..

Or are MP's soon to be allowed more than one vote in General Elections.

I don't think this one has the legs to get going, but nice to know that he is frit of Farage. This kind of corruption was deemed unacceptable in the 1800's, we should not stand for it today either.

14 December 2009 at 12:49  
Blogger The Anti Christ said...

Just a reminder also that the leader of UKIP is Lord Pearson. And also that the only politician who has any credible argument to put forward in the face of the AGW hysteria is Christopher Monckton, who has now also joined UKIP. So a wasted vote it is not.

14 December 2009 at 13:17  
Blogger Frugal Dougal said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again. I have now problem with Sally Bercow's having a swipe at David Cameron; should she become an MP, I imagine the last thing she and her husband would wish to discuss over breakfast and cocoa would be politics. What I have a problem with is the wife of the - technically - impartial Speaker of the House of Commons having a swipe at David Cameron in the Speaker's chambers.

14 December 2009 at 13:37  
Blogger I am Stan said...

Yo Cranny..The Speaker should be replaced with Her Maj...

That way I believe we ¨Subjects¨ would at least have the ear of someone who actually gives a damn...after all ,unhappy subjects = no realm....and she could always start cutting off heads hahahaha.

14 December 2009 at 14:01  
Blogger Lord Lavendon said...

Your Grace, you refer to this proposal as a rotten borough. I am more inclined to think of the University constituencies, which used to elect members of the House of Commons up to the late '40's, except this proposal would mean an even more limited electorate. Although in one way this proposal does not surprise me, Bercow was elected by labour to upset the Tories and I guess labour would probably back this idea as they are all in favour of political appointees rather than have to face elections (to anything) or prefer to make the electorate one which will go their way.

14 December 2009 at 14:06  
Blogger Greg Callus said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

14 December 2009 at 14:28  
Anonymous not a machine said...

I think this definitely falls into the catagory of NO , it is blatant misuse of both the offices and process of the house.

He will only make himself more disliked by the public with this manouver .

14 December 2009 at 17:14  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


& I note the word verification is 'recolled' - this is evidently a Sign!

14 December 2009 at 18:46  
Blogger James D said...

This is a terrific idea. It would allow Buckingham to have a real MP. Next, to get the Prime Minister and his Cabinet out of the House of Commons.

14 December 2009 at 22:13  
Blogger Tarquin said...

I agree that the speaker should not effectively disenfranchise a constituency, but why bother setting up the 'rotten borough' at all

The speaker is already effectively unelected, why not just allow them to retain the office, there's no need for them to be an offical MP as once they retire they leave the house and become a peer

or here's a novel idea - elect a speaker at the start of every parliamentary session, Bercow thinks this is a bad idea (but then, he would) - but why? Particularly at this election there will be hundreds of new MPs, probably over half of the house, why should they be forced to deal with the petty political decisions the former disgraced house made 12 months previously?

No Parliament can bind those that follow it, and all that

14 December 2009 at 23:39  
Anonymous Voyager said...

I take it the Prime Minister will also have a fictional constituency since the criterion for his selection is 'ability to muster a majority in the House of Commons' ?

15 December 2009 at 04:52  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Sui Juris The SNP did not win the Glasgow North East by-election, Labour did (59.4%-20.0%).

31 December 2009 at 20:45  

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