And then there were nine: Rosie Winterton, the most junior of John Bercow’s three deputies, has become the latest candidate to enter the race to succeed the Speaker.
In a letter to colleagues this morning, the Labour MP for Doncaster Central – who served as opposition chief whip from 2010 until her sacking by Jeremy Corbyn in 2016 – sells herself as a “stabilising, unifying Speaker who could help resolve the tensions that have built up in recent times by working with all colleagues in a low profile, consensus building way”.
Citing her record as a minister, chief whip and deputy speaker, Winterton has pitched herself as someone who will junk the worst of Bercow and keep the best: she promises to balance the rights of the executive and backbenchers, drive reform of Commons procedure, tackle bullying and harassment, and curtail the lengthy debates that Bercow is wont to let run and run. “I adjudicate, I will not dictate,” she writes. “We must learn to disagree better.”
So far, so familiar. Near enough every serious candidate who isn’t Harriet Harman has pitch their candidacy, to one degree or another, as an opportunity for MPs to free themselves from everything they dislike about Bercow: if people believe that the incumbent has favourites, is partisan on Brexit, hogs the limelight and is unpleasant to those who cross him, it makes sense to promise a break with that sort of behaviour.
The timing of Winterton’s announcement is also significant. She is, going by the pace other big names have set, a late entry. Her fellow deputies, Lindsay Hoyle and Eleanor Laing, signalled they would run well before Bercow had announced his resignation, and Harman declared privately many months ago.
Winterton’s team say the delay is a consequence of her giving the decision “proper thought”, and that MPs from across the House had sought her out to pledge their support since the Commons returned from prorogation on Wednesday. But it is helpful for Winterton to announce at the end of a week that has seen Labour women, most of whom she is known and liked by from her time as chief whip, have a particularly rough time in the chamber.
Can she win? While Winterton is both popular among the PLP and confident of commanding a broad base of support, it is worth noting that she is the fifth Labour MP to announce a serious candidacy. The voting is run on an exhaustive ballot, rather than a preferential one, so just how many Labour MPs break for each of their colleagues in the early rounds will be key to determining which one of them makes it furthest.
But what matters just as much, if not more, is how attractive their candidacies are to Conservative MPs. Winterton clearly believes there is a market for a Labour woman who has experience in the chair and recognises why so many Conservatives dislike the incumbent. Yet she may find that those Tories – many of whom privately object to the notion that it is Labour’s turn to provide the Speaker – believe they have a better option: her fellow deputy Eleanor Laing. She remains the only credible Conservative in a crowded field that, for some in her party, isn’t getting any more appealing.