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.