“I want to thank everybody. It has been a long night. I do not want to keep you any longer, but I do stand by what I have said. This House will change, but it will change for the better. Thank you, everybody.” In many ways, this closing of Sir Lindsay Hoyle’s acceptance speech upon being appointed the new Speaker of the House of Commons summarised the differences to be expected now John Bercow has vacated the Chair. With what his predecessor would likely have dubbed ‘remarkable alacrity’, the new era of the House of Commons has begun.
In the end, Hoyle was the natural choice to take the Chair. As the Senior Deputy Speaker for nine years, Hoyle’s is a familiar voice in the Commons chamber, including chairing the Budget debates every year. This makes him more of a known quantity than many of the other candidates, including his closest challenger Chris Bryant, whose claim to Speakership included the knowledge that he keeps a copy of the Standing Orders of the House by his bedside. Sir Lindsay’s tenure as Deputy Speaker has earnt respect from across the house and from the press gallery, where his reluctance for lengthy interventions has won praise from tired journalists. It is likely the Bercow days of hour-long Prime Minister’s Questions are gone.
It is not just the MP for Chorley’s brevity which has won him supporters across the House, but also his concern for MPs’ safety. Hoyle was responsible as Deputy Speaker for safety measures for MPs, a role which has taken on greater prominence in recent years with the increasing harassment of MPs as part of our ever-coarsening public discourse. He was also in the Chair during the Westminster terrorist attack in 2017, where he was praised for his calmness and professionalism. He is seen to be a trusted figure by many, and indeed it was notable that he was heartily cheered across the House upon his election. Indeed, his nomination paper carried signatures from a multitude of parties, including the lesser-spotted The Independent Group for Change. Whether this cost him the support of ‘The Independents’, currently comprised of Gavin Shuker and John Woodcock, is yet to be seen.
Of course, no discussion of British politics can be divorced from Brexit. In this regard, Sir Lindsay is somewhat unique, in that he has refused to disclose whether he voted for Leave or Remain in the 2016 referendum. Of course, it is impossible to open a window into men’s souls, but it is unlikely he will be as tempted to one side or the other as his predecessor, whose disdain for Brexit was a poorly kept secret. John Bercow became a deeply divisive figure, less for his preening from the Chair and ill-tempered outbursts, but because of his decisions taken on Brexit motions in the House. He was accused, rightly in some cases, of abandoning precedent when it suited him while at other times maintaining its importance. In this light, Hoyle’s run as Deputy Speaker is instructive. Just recently, Sir Lindsay was in the chair as the bill calling for a general election was laid before the House. The government was nervous about opposition amendments calling for votes for 16-year-olds and EU nationals, and would have rightly been nervous if Bercow was in the Chair. However, Sir Lindsay, probably correctly, ruled that these amendments would have changed the scope of the Bill, and so did not allow them.
Bercow’s reign as Speaker, especially during the Brexit debates, highlighted the importance of the role in a new way. The Speakership is of course in part an ambassadorial role, and in this the affable Hoyle, with friends across the House, is likely to do well. While Bercow’s latter period as Speaker was marred by accusations of bullying Commons staff, as well as his ill-tempered outbursts at the expense of MPs he did not like, there is no indication this will be a problem faced by Hoyle. However, Bercow demonstrated too the power of the Speaker in the course of our politics. The Speaker’s ability to select amendments, unilaterally overturn amendment and rule on constitutional trickery is hugely important, and can often seem like too much power for a single figure, unelected by the public. In Bercow’s case he had not been challenged for his Speakership since he was elected in 2009, meaning he was not even elected by the sitting Commons. How Hoyle approaches the authority of the Speakership is of course something of an unknown, but if his track record is anything to go by, his willingness to avoid the limelight may be a welcome break from his predecessor.
Image Credit: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor