A distressing afternoon for John Bercow, the just retired Speaker, as the candidates to fill his chair competed to assure MPs they would not do as he did.
Dame Rosie Winterton promised: “I would douse the flames, not pour petrol on them.”
Chris Bryant said the House needs “a Speaker who is an umpire, not a player”. He undertook, as did most of the contenders, to “get PMQs back to 30 minutes”.
And he added, with admirable conservatism, “I want to stop the clapping.”
A few wags clapped. “Yes, very funny,” he said.
Bryant paid tribute to Betty Boothroyd, the greatest Speaker of modern times, who was sitting respendent in the gallery.
Sir Edward Leigh said “the Speaker should be a dignified and quiet voice”, but his voice turned out to be so dignified and quiet that he got only 12 votes on the first ballot and was eliminated, as was Meg Hillier on ten.
Dame Eleanor Laing declared that it is “not the role of the Speaker to say any more than needs to be said”. She also wanted “escape from the overbearing and hierararchical structures” which make it “all too easy for a culture of bullying” to take root.
Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the front-runner, who amassed no fewer than 211 votes on the first ballot, called for “an accountable Speaker”, and promised, “I will be accountable”. He seemed almost to choke with emotion. He really wants it.
Harriet Harman paid tribute to Boothroyd, who gave a gracious wave. Harman added that it was time for a second woman to hold the post, a sentiment applauded by Laing.
There was then a long wait, a strange, becalmed period, during which I reflected, unfashionably, that Bercow, despite grievous faults which became more pronounced towards the end, was a brilliant Speaker who did much to rescue the Chamber from the torpor into which it had fallen under Michael Martin.
It is time for a change from Bercow, but not from his zeal for bringing members of the Government to the House to answer urgent questions.
Kenneth Clarke, the Father of the House, chaired these proceedings with affable calm. He would have had the presence to be a wonderful Speaker, but after 49 years he is retiring.