Bercow poised to be named Speaker

•Sir George Young takes second place
•Support for Beckett falls after whips' intervention

The Conservative rebel John Bercow looks set to be Commons Speaker. Bercow's convincing lead comes after the late front-runner, the former Labour cabinet minister Margaret Beckett, appeared to have been damaged by attempts by party whips' attempts to enforce her victory.

The first round of voting has just taken place following speeches from all ten of the original candidates. Bercow's raised the most laughs -causing even Gordon Brown to smile for the first time during the lengthy proceedings - with a speech that started with an impersonation of a Tory grandee refusing to pledge support. The Buckingham MP, who gained the support of the New Statesman this week, described the job as "a tall order". "I'm just a little man," he said, "but I am confident I can rise to the occasion."

He added: "I don't want to be someone; I want to do something", Brown nodded faintly.

Bercow topped the first round, securing the support of 179 MPs. Sir George Young, the High Tory grandee, came second with 112. Beckett won just 74 votes. Labour MPs believe attempts by government whips to call MPs at the weekend - revealed first by newstatesman.com yesterday - have backfired.

As no candidate has obtained 50 per cent of the vote, further rounds take place over the coming hours. The next vote takes place around 7pm. Some Beckett supporters are expected to switch to Bercow, though Young should not be ruled out at this stage as Tory MPs who despise Bercow for his progressive stance may yet harden against him and in favour of Young, who is also picking up support among Labour MPs.

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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