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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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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