The Racing Card

The Bet - Who will succeed Betty Boothroyd as Speaker?

Sir Alan Haselhurst 4-1
Gwyneth Dunwoody 8-1
Michael Martin 10-1
Menzies Campbell 12-1
Alan Beith 20-1

(Source: Charlie Whelan)

Trying to guess who will be the next Speaker is more difficult than naming the next Prime Minister, partly because no one will admit that he or she wants the job. Behind the scenes, there is a fierce battle going on for this job. Betty Boothroyd organised one of the most successful campaigns ever when she got the job by stitching up the Deputy Speaker,

Harold Walker, who has never forgiven her.

You may wonder why anyone wants the job of keeping the Commons in order, but the perks make it worthwhile. You get a huge apartment under Big Ben and a six-figure salary. You also go on many foreign junkets to preach democracy. The power of the Speaker is awesome. One of Boothroyd's first acts as Speaker under a Labour government was to allow a spurious Private Notice Question, delaying Labour's first Budget in 20 years, just to show who was boss. And if you ever dare cross the Speaker, she has the power to kick you out of the Commons. One man Lobby journalists won't want as Speaker is the Labour MP Michael Martin, because it was he who banned them from drinking on the Terrace. However, it is unlikely that a Scot will get the job now that the Scots have their own parliament. That also rules out Menzies Campbell, who is desperate for the job. Which leaves Gwyneth Dunwoody, trying to become only the second woman Speaker ever and the Tory Sir Alan Haselhurst. He is favourite because the postwar tradition is that the job goes to an opposition MP. The smart money, though, is on Boothroyd staying for another term. Why would she want to give up all those perks for a seat in the Lords?

This article first appeared in the 10 April 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The long war against democracy