The 1922 Committee holds hustings for Conservative candidates for the vacant Deputy Speaker post later today. There are two main reasons for holding it – one obvious, the other not-so-obvious. The obvious one is to allow Tory MPs a chance to hear what the contenders have to say for themselves. The not-so-obvious one is to remind candidates who have little support with that fact, thereby giving them a chance gracefully to withdraw from the contest before nominations close.
I’m not at all sure that this second reason will bear fruit. MPs, like the rest of us, have a tendency to hear what they want to hear. None the less, it will be worth watching whether those touted for the post go forward next week (nominations close on Tuesday) or even this evening. The names in the ring are: David Amess, Henry Bellingham, Brian Binley, Simon Burns, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Nadine Dorries, Eleanor Laing and Gary Streeter.
As I say, not all of these may stand: sources told me earlier today that there is a question mark over Clifton Brown. But we will see. Since it’s reasonable to presume that the Conservative vote will go all over the place when the election takes place – including that of the 2010 intake, which makes up almost half the Parliamentary Party (and of which no candidate is a member) – much will depend on what Liberal Democrat and, especially, Labour MPs do.
Since they voted for the Speaker in large numbers, and have an interest in making life difficult for David Cameron, it follows that they are unlikely to fall behind any candidate who’s on tense terms with the Speaker and relaxed ones with the Prime Minister. Laing is keen to stress that she isn’t Cameron’s candidate. She has no difficulty with John Bercow that I know of. And there may be an element of women-voting-for-women on the Labour side.
All the candidates were colleagues when I was in the Commons, though I probably know Burns and Dorries better than the others. Speaking of which, connections count for much in these contests, and Laing has a lot of them, having been in the Commons since 1997. No wonder she is the favourite with the bookies. But remember: we are dealing with “the most sophisticated electorate in the world” (for which also read “the most unreliable”).