When asked which party he supported, my father said: "I am on the side of those who cultivate their gardens"

The date of an election is creeping up on us - an election of considerable importance, but one without a campaign. At least, there is no official campaign for Speaker of the House of Commons. But friends of the dozen or so candidates are active, discreet messages are being delivered, and relevant back copies of Hansard regularly arrive in the mail. How fair and democratic it will be is another matter. About as fair and democratic as any election that relies on arrangements, made through the "usual channels", for one or two members to catch the eye of Sir Edward Heath, the Father of the House. It will surely be the last time that this puff-of-white-smoke technique of electing a Speaker will be used. The parties long ago modernised their procedures for choosing a leader. The House of Commons itself lags a long way behind.

One of the conventions is that the MP elected as Speaker must show a touching reluctance to take the job, and almost be dragged to the chair. There is actually no mechanism for refusal. But if any candidates really don't want it, I can offer an easy escape: on the fateful day, they should put themselves beyond the reach of the process by joining me on the cross-bench just below the Serjeant-at-Arms. It is technically not part of the House, and I have even been declared invisible while sitting there. That was in the debate on the bombing of Iraq in December 1998. The MP for Canterbury, Julian Brazier, wished to take issue with something I had said. The deputy speaker, Sir Alan Haselhurst, rose majestically to call for order. "The Honourable Member for Tatton is not in the Chamber," he said, "so the Honourable Gentleman should not refer to him."

Parliament is not yet back in business. But the government is, and we await a decision on two important issues. The first is the case for setting aside the verdict of gross negligence against the two pilots of the RAF Chinook helicopter that crashed on the Mull of Kintyre in June 1994. There is too much doubt about the cause of the crash to sustain this verdict, which defames the memories of the pilots. The other is the campaign for a gratuity to be paid to the 7,000 Far East prisoners of war who are still living and to their widows. Recognition for this band of neglected British heroes, who for three and a half years suffered hardships we can hardly imagine, is long overdue. Time is short. With every week that passes, their number dwindles. The issue has gone for a decision to the Prime Minister, who must take action to show the nation's gratitude.

Journalism and politics have a certain amount of common ground - the common ground of a battlefield. Neither is for the faint-hearted, and both require steadiness under fire. One of the greatest difficulties in crossing the line between them is learning how to deal with opposition. Journalists have rivals, rather than enemies; but politicians have both. An independent MP tends to attract less hostility than a party politician, but I knew from the Tatton campaign that I would always have at least two enemies. And now, there is a third. I have written an account of my time in parliament - a gentle and not very polemical book that assesses the state of our democracy and puts the case for more independent-minded MPs. I had expected it to be spun against by interested parties, but was surprised by the speed and ferocity of the onslaught that it attracted. Sion Simon, having read only the fraction of the book that was first serialised, weighed in with 1,000 words of venom and vitriol in the Daily Telegraph. I have a lot of time for angry old men: they have usually earned their anger and are worth listening to. But angry young men puzzle me. They haven't lived enough. They don't know enough. Their wrath, although it fills column-inches, seems somehow unconvincing.

Simon accused me, among other offences, of strutting and prancing around Westminster. Limping would be more like it. Anyone who has seen me there over the past year would know that strutting and prancing have been well beyond the powers of an arthritic hip. Even now, with a titanium work of art to replace it, I can do no more than stroll about my business.

Writing the book has had other side effects, such as providing an opening for Neil and Christine Hamilton as reviewers. I expect neither grace nor favour from either of them. It has also provided a fascinating insight into the publishing business itself. If there is any romance in publishing, it is the romance of the casino. Publishers are gamblers, or quite literally book-makers, which is why they work so hard for so little. But the books they deal in are also "product"; and, as such, are merchandised like soap flakes.

I remember the dismay of a well-known broadcaster, having just despatched the first 30,000 words of his autobiography, on discovering that his publisher was interested only in the length and not at all in the quality: his name alone was the selling-point, and not his way with words. Still, the list of bestselling non-fiction regularly delivers a reassuring message about the kind of people we are. Political memoirs are a minority taste. We are not a nation of political enthusiasts, but of sports fans and cooks and gardeners. I believe that this speaks well of us. My father, the author Adrian Bell, when asked to choose between the political parties in 1974, replied: "I am on the side of those who cultivate their gardens."

Christine Hamilton reviews Martin Bell's book on page 50