Will Bercow still face a challenge in parliament?

He beat Farage but can he see off the Tory right?

John Bercow may have easily fought off Nigel Farage in Buckingham (he did have the safest Conservative seat in the country, after all) but it looks like he may yet face a challenge in Westminster.

The Conservative MP Nadine Dorries, an implacable opponent of Bercow, is said to be prepared to challenge his re-election as Speaker -- and it only takes one objection to trigger a formal vote.

As my colleage James Macintyre reported in his account of the right-wing plot against Bercow, Dorries has previously stated:

I for one will be studying the procedure to call a Speaker re-election . . . and will have [it] engrained on my heart [sic] ready to go when the Conservative Party take power.

I like to think that opposition MPs and the Lib Dems would prevent the unprecedented removal of a second Speaker, but should he fall, two possible replacements are under active discussion: Ming Campbell and Edward Leigh.

Leigh, the president of the 40-strong Cornerstone Group, was spotlighted by us earlier this year as one of the "ten people Dave should fear" and has long been touted by the right as an alternative Speaker. Ming, meanwhile, would be the first Liberal speaker since the Coalition Liberal John Henry Whitley, who held the post from 1921-28.

Special offer: get 12 issues of the New Statesman for just £5.99 plus a free copy of "Liberty in the Age of Terror" by A C Grayling.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

The Brexit select committee walkout is an ominous sign of things to come

Leavers walked out of a meeting of Hilary Benn's "gloomy" committee yesterday. Their inability to accept criticism could have disastrous consequences

“Hilary Benn isn’t managing a select committee. He’s managing an ecosystem.” That was the stark verdict of one member of the Commons' Brexit committee on its fitness for purpose yesterday. If its meeting on the eve of Article 50 is anything to go by, then Benn’s fragile biome might already be damaged beyond repair.

Unhappy with the content of its “gloomy” provisional 155-page report into the government’s Brexit white paper, leavers on the committee walked out of its meeting yesterday. The committee is a necessarily unwieldy creation and it would probably be unreasonable to expect it to agree unanimously on anything: it has 21 members where others have 11, so as to adequately represent Leavers, Remainers and the nations.

Disagreements are one thing. Debate and scrutiny, after all, are why select committees exist. But the Brexiteers’ ceremonial exodus augurs terribly for the already grim-looking trajectory of the negotiations to come. “As I understand it, they don’t like analysing the evidence that they have,” another pro-Remain member of the committee told me.

Therein lies the fundamental weakness of the Brexiteers’ position: they cannot change the evidence. As was the case with the 70 MPs who wrote to Lord Hall last week to accuse the BBC of anti-Brexit bias, they assume a pernicious selectivity on the part of Remainers and their approach to the inconvenient facts at hand. None exists.

On the contrary, there is a sense of resignation among some Remainers on the Brexit committee that their reports will turn out to be pretty weak beer as a consequence of the accommodations made by Benn to their Eurosceptic colleagues. Some grumble that high-profile Brexiteers lack detailed understanding of the grittier issues at play – such as the Good Friday Agreement – and only value the committee insofar as it gives them the opportunity to grandstand to big audiences.

The Tory awkward squad’s inability to accept anything less than the studied neutrality that plagued the Brexit discourse in the run-up to the referendum – or, indeed, any critical analysis whatsoever – could yet make an already inauspicious scenario unsalvageable. If they cannot accept even a watered-down assessment of the risks ahead, then what happens when those risks are made real? Will they ever accept the possibility that it could be reality, and not the Remain heretics, doing Britain down? How bad will things have to get before saving face isn’t their primary imperative?

Yesterday's pantomime exit might have been, as one committee member told me, “hysterically funny”. What’s less amusing is that these are the only people the prime minister deigns to listen to.

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.