Labour whips have been ringing round MPs and actively instructing them to vote Margaret Beckett for Speaker, the New Statesman has learnt. The coordinated move, which amounts to an abandonment by Labour of its unofficial support for the Tory rebel John Bercow, comes hours before the contest to replace Michael Martin on Monday.
Sources say the whips' message is: "It doesn't matter about not having another Labour Speaker - we need someone who will serve the party's interests". This contradicts the message being given out publicly by ministers, including Jack Straw on Sunday, who have emphasised the need for a "non-partisan" approach to this contest, which comes in the wake of the expenses scandal and unprecedented alienation from Westminster among the electorate.
The fact that whips are involved at all, furthermore, hugely undermines the idea that the Government has understood the need for a fresh approach to Parliament, in which MPs are empowered to be more independent from the executive. "How can you say we will have a fresh approach with this strong-arming going on," one said.
The NS has also learnt that Mrs Beckett herself has been phoning waverers this weekend, outlining the case for electing her. One MP who will be voting for another candidate, and told Mrs Beckett so, was given the stark warning: "Well I've won this."