- Bercow Survives Government ‘Backhanded Coup’
- Backbenchers in Uproar
- Hague Reputation on the Line
- Tears on final day of Parliament
The final day of this Parliament will certainly be one to remember as the Government tried and failed to topple Speaker John Bercow.
At around 6PM last night rumours of a coup began to circulate the Houses of Parliament. The Government announced plans to bring forward changes to the way that the House of Commons is run by changing the system of electing the Speaker of the House of Commons to a secret ballot. However many have seen through this motion as nothing more than an attempt to topple Speaker Bercow.
The Government announced that they would put forward the motion during a “Spare hour” that had been opened up, due to the fact that the Lords had not send down any amendments to be voted on. The Leader of the House, William Hague, was despatched quickly to the Commons to announce a change in the days business that would allow for an hour to debate these new motions and put them to an immediate vote.
Westminster quickly erupted into chaos, with many MPs already getting set to go home and start canvassing for the upcoming election on May 7th being called back. The Conservatives had already put out a three line whip for their MPs to stay in Westminster under the auspices of an important meeting of the Conservative Parliamentary Party. This turned out to be nothing more than a way of making sure that MPs stayed behind so that they would have to vote the motion through.
The Chamber quickly adopted a hostile tone to this deception and to the fact that the Government had tried to push these measures through in such a backhanded way on the last day of Parliament. Prominent backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg wrote off the whole debate as nothing more than “jiggery pokery”. With many other backbenchers also responding in a hostile manner.
Both Labour and Conservative backbenchers rained blow after blow against the Government and against Leader of the House William Hague, who was the only frontbenchers present. Many prominent backbenchers aimed straight for the heart by citing that this would be a stain on his reputation as a statesman. I can’t imagine this is what Hague thought he would have to put up with on his final day as an MP.
Hague however may not have been as keen on the idea as people suggest. Rumours have been circulating Westminster today that he was not on board and was in fact forced into it by the PM. The Sudden appearance of the Chief Whip towards the middle of the debate might suggest that this was indeed the case. His facial expression was certainly one of a man who had his doubts about what he was doing.
Tears and Cheers
Perhaps one of the highlights of the debate was when Conservative MP, and Chair of the Procedure Committee, Charles Walker stood up to speak. It was his proposals that were in front of the house, allegedly with him only finding out at 6PM last night. Walker gave a heartfelt speech defending Speaker Bercow and attacking the government for going ahead with his proposals in such a backhanded way. By the time Walker stood down the Labour benches were standing in applause and Bercow was visibly on the verge of tears.
Yet the debate continued. “Michael Dobbs would be ashamed to write this in one of his books” exclaimed one Conservative backbencher, in reference to the House of Cards book series. “This is an assault of democracy” shouted another Labour MP. The mood in the House was certainly unpleasant.
Towards the end several MPs attempted to extend the time allowed for the debate but failed. The motions were put to a vote. The first one passed without need for a division. Then came the motion of controversy. A clear split caused a division.
“Division! Clear the Lobby” Shouted Bercow, knowing that everything for him rided on this vote failing.
Ten minutes passed and MPs began to file out of the debating chamber to vote. The tellers returned.
“The Ayes to the Right 202, the Noes to the Left 228.” The motion failed. The Governments backhanded attempt to launch a coup to knock Bercow out failed. Both Conservatives and Labour MPs responded with a standing ovation as the Government was defeated one last time before the election.
A Failed Coup
The actions of the government today have been widely viewed as unacceptable. They claim that this motion was a sincere bid to try and reform the way Parliament is run by electing the speaker by secret ballot, yet most MPs and members of the public have been able to see through this to what it really is, a thinly veiled coup.
The defeat on this bill has also managed to make clear the fact that the Whips office no longer has the power it once did. That more and more independent minded MPs are able to express themselves openly. The defeat of this bill has also managed to show that support for the independence of the Speaker is stronger than ever.
His next challenge however is to see if he can secure another term as Speaker once he returns to Parliament in May.
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