The next Speaker. Will MPs be guided by party or by prejudice?

The election of the Commons Speaker in 2009 saw party loyalty win out.  In simple terms, most of John Bercow’s 221 votes in the penultimate round came from Labour, who had won 355 seats in the 2005 general election.  Margaret Beckett, the other Labour MP in that round, won 70 votes.

George Young, who came second in the round, won 174 votes: the Conservatives had won 198 seats in 2005.  The figures for the final round also help to spotlight the position.  They were: Bercow 322, Young 271.  (In retrospect, the latter did very well in gaining what was evidently at least 50 or so non-Tory votes.)

So an important question about the election of Bercow’s successor is: will it also break down on Party lines?  After all, Labour MPs have propped him up in office, while most Tory MPs voted, in effect, to oust him in 2015.

As in 2009, that doesn’t necessarily suggest Tories voting for another Tory – the leading contenders from the blue corner perhaps being Eleanor Laing, a Deputy Speaker now, and Charles Walker.  Some Conservatives might plump for another of the deputy speakers, Lindsay Hoyle.

Labour MPs, though, are more likely to plump for another “one of their own” – be that Rosie Winterton, the party’s former Chief Whip, or Harriet Harman, “the mother of the House”.

All in all, party is less likely to win out than prejudice, to use the word in its broadest sense.  If MPs want a Continuity Bercow, they won’t vote for Hoyle, who would be more of an old-fashioned figure in the George Thomas mould.  If they do, Harman seems to be the most likely beneficiary.

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A Government of national unity is a non-starter – even if its seven prospective leaders take one day of the week each

The cry goes up for a Government of national unity. Boris Johnson will attempt, after 31st October, to provide one.

But that is not what the advocates of such a Government have in mind. What they actually want is a united Opposition, which can stop Brexit.

Far from uniting the country, they intend to go on dividing it. If they get their way, Johnson will be thwarted, the Brexit Party will flourish and cries of betrayal will be heard across the land.

What chance is there of a united Opposition? The logic set out here last week has not changed. Alastair Campbell’s declaration that he no longer wishes to be readmitted to the Labour Party is but one of many signs that members of the Opposition loathe each other.

The Leader of the Opposition insists, quite understandably, that any uniting should be done under his leadership. Yet most Labour MPs consider Jeremy Corbyn unfit even to lead their own party, let alone to become Prime Minister.

And how many MPs from other parties, distressed by the prospect of Brexit and wishing to do everything they can to avert it, will want to unite under Corbyn’s banner?

The answer to that question is not very many. He is not even a genuine Remainer.

Advocates of a united Opposition therefore suggest that some other leader should be found. Names bandied about include Yvette Cooper, Hilary Benn, Margaret Beckett, Kenneth Clarke, Jo Swinson and Caroline Lucas.

If one adds Corbyn’s name to this list, one finds, conveniently, that there would be one leader for each day of the week.

This would surely be a fair way to settle the matter, if only they could decide who was to have which day.

The most popular day might be Wednesday, when the Leader of the Opposition has the right, if Parliament is sitting, to put six questions to the Prime Minister.

Corbyn has not made a great success of this, and might be glad not to have to do it, but he would be bound to consider any other day of the week a demotion, and if he were to end up being leader on Saturday or Sunday, it would eat into the time he can spend on his allotment.

The more one thinks about how to unite the Opposition, the clearer it becomes that Corbyn is the problem. If Labour had a leader who was good at getting on with members of other parties, the project might just be feasible.

As it is, Corbyn sits there like a dog in the manger, preventing anyone else from having a go, while himself being unable to use the opportunities open to the Leader of the Opposition.

If he puts down a motion of no confidence in the Government, it has to be debated. Perhaps when Parliament returns at the start of September he will do so, but he is being cautious about saying that he actually will.

Nor can his hesitations be attributed solely to the perverse effects of the Fixed Terms Parliament Act, discussed here earlier this week by Paul Goodman.

Even with that wretched Act in force, a no confidence motion might start a process which led to a general election, at which Johnson, a formidable campaigner with a clear Brexit policy, could squeeze the Brexit Party and make hay at the expense of a divided Opposition, with Labour in danger of losing its Remain voters to the Liberal Democrats and its Leave voters to the Conservatives.

No wonder Corbyn hesitates. An early election might well be a disaster for him and his party.

In the resulting vacuum, anguished Tory Remainers such as Dominic Grieve hold anxious discussions with their friends on the Opposition benches, and hope they can come up with something.

Perhaps they can. But that something would not be a Government of national unity. It would be a last-ditch attempt to overturn the referendum result, wreck Brexit and destroy the Government we actually have.

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