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9 September 2019

John Bercow ends his tenure as Speaker as he started it: frustrating the government

The Speaker's exit means that his replacement will be picked by this parliament, rather than the next.

By Stephen Bush

John Bercow has announced that he will stand down as Speaker of the House on 31 October or at the next election, whichever is the sooner.

When Bercow became Speaker in 2009, his first act was to instruct the Commons clerks to find ways that they could weaken the executive at the expense of the House of Commons, which has been the central project of his tenure. The manner of his exit, too, is designed to maximise the power of the elected House over that of the executive: by standing down at October’s end, assuming, as now looks all-but-certain, there is no election before then, this means that the 2017 parliament will choose the next Speaker, not the 2019 parliament.

Why does that matter? Well, because as Bercow himself essentially said, a new House of Commons, regardless of its composition, is more likely to be directed by the government whips. New MPs are less likely to know all the candidates well or the pattern of the House, and even assuming that the make-up of the House remains unchanged, there will be a substantial bloc of new MPs, due to retirements on both sides and the expulsion of 21 Conservative MPs.

It may also change the identity of his successor: Lindsay Hoyle, the popular deputy speaker, is the Labour MP for the marginal constituency of Chorley, and is not certain to make it back in the next parliament. Now his candidacy can go forward against a strong field that will likely include the likes of Harriet Harman, Charles Walker and Rosie Winterton.

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