An embarrassment of Etonians

In theory, secret ballots are the cornerstone of democracy. But when the electorate is made up of conniving, duplicitous, self-deceiving politicians given a rare chance to vote in private, then all bets are off. The election of the Speaker was one such occasion. And that this farce was conducted while the world chided President Ahmadinejad for heavy vote manipulation was an irony, this being the Commons, lost on nearly all of them.

From the beginning, the election was an oddity in that neither side wanted to win. It was therefore contested with all the guile and skullduggery of a five-set match of tennis between players who, while appearing to strive for victory, are determined to be defeated. When overseeing such an operation, it is crucial to gull your opponent into misreading what you desire.

We, obviously, were mad keen on Beckett. You didn’t have to see her being hissed on Question Time to realise she would have been perfectly cast as the Wicked Stepmother – acting, when we are in office, as a reminder of the bad old Blair/Brown days. She was, in short, a gift. Labour, however, is so short of ideas – so oppositional, frankly – that we knew they would vote en masse against whatever we tried to do. So we let it be put about that we had taken a collective shine to that twerp John Bercow. All went swimmingly. The idiot Bercow was installed as a false favourite, and everyone was unaware of Beckett coming up fast behind.

Or she would have been if the rump of the party was capable of holding two thoughts in its head at the same time. Not voting for Bercow they understood; voting for Beckett utterly befuddled them. “But isn’t she Labour?” more than one asked.

As a result of this bovine behaviour it was not Beckett but Sir George Young who finished a handy second after the second round. Mildly disappointing, given the fun we could have had with Mags, but, considering we were attempting to manipulate an election with a working minority of 260, not a bad effort.

Then David came on the phone: “GD, what on earth is going on?” I patiently explained. He interrupted before I could finish. “The next prime minister is an OE, the Mayor of London is an OE, if the Speaker is an OE, we might as well move the whole shebang to the outskirts of Windsor, make Hugh earnley-Bloody-Whittingstall food tsar, and do the show right there.”

“Good point,” I replied, before going on to blame Oliver Letwin, who is so averse to reading CVs, particularly personal statements, that he bypasses the whole procedure by simply employing Etonians, hence our predominance.

“I don’t care whose fault it is, just stop Sir George,” said David, hanging up. Back to the tea rooms I went. “Vote Bercow,” I whispered hither and thither. “But isn’t he Labour?” more than one asked. We couldn’t, in truth, have won on our own. However, Labour now had it in its head that we wanted Young, which we had done, to be fair, only five minutes before, and ensured Bercow was elected.

It was galling, certainly, to see him dragged to the Speaker’s chair like a man who’s been away too long from a favoured S&M club, and with a hop, skip and a jump is led to the dungeon. But at least we have been spared an embarrassment of Etonians.

This article first appeared in the 29 June 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The Great Escape