Race to succeed Speaker begins

• Field and Bercow favoured by many
• Cable and Davis rule themselves out

The race to succeed Michael Martin as Speaker and oversee radical parliamentary reform began in earnest yesterday.

Sir Alan Beith, the former deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, was the first MP to declare his candidacy and Sir Menzies Campbell, the former leader of the party, is also thought to be interested in the position. The election will be held on 22 June, the day after Martin steps down.

The well-respected Labour MP Frank Field was touted by many in the media as the obvious successor but there are doubts over whether he can win sufficient support from his own party’s backbenchers. Many dislike and even despise Field for his support for large public spending cuts and his abrasive criticism of Gordon Brown.

Last night Labour’s Chris Mullin, whose diaries A View from the Foothills were recently celebrated as standing in the tradition of Alan Clark, was also mentioned as a possible candidate. Mullin is due to step down at the next election but told BBC2’s Newsnight that he would be prepared to stay on if a groundswell of support built up.

John Bercow, the centrist Conservative MP, was frequently mentioned by Labour MPs as they seek to avoid the charge of partisanship that dogged Michael Martin. But as with Field, there are doubts that he can win enough support from Tory MPs, many of whom regard Bercow as an unreliable maverick.

The current Conservative favourite is Sir George Young, who stood against Martin for the position in 2000. As a centrist Conservative he could expect to win support across the House.

In the past the position of Speaker was traditionally held by a member of the opposition but this convention was broken by Labour as first Betty Boothroyd and then Michael Martin served under their own party.

Several of Westminster’s most prominent figures have already ruled themselves out of the race. Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman, often regarded as the most popular politician in the country said he was not interested in the job, as did David Davis, the former shadow home secretary.