Saturday, 18 April 2015

The Deputy Speakership Entering Uncharted Orange Waters? - Chorley Not

There was an interesting suggestion in Private Eye that Labour's Lindsay Hoyle, seeking re-election in Chorley, might find himself, post-election, no longer a Deputy Speaker, due to "post-election horse-trading".

The argument is that, with the departure of Hoyle's fellow Labour Deputy Speaker, Dawn Primarolo, Labour might want a woman to replace her, with suggestions being the Labour Chief Whip, Rosie Winterton (seeking re-election in Doncaster Central, and hence the parliamentary successor to former Labour Deputy Speaker, Harold Walker) or the Shadow Energy & Climate Change Secretary, Caroline Flint (seeking re-election in another Doncaster seat, Don Valley).

Of course, if Labour wins the general election, then Winterton and Flint would be likely to form part of a triumvirate of Doncaster MPs in the Cabinet - led by Ted Miliband, seeking re-election in Doncaster North. But, if there is a Conservative-led Government, the choice would be between seeking to be a Deputy Speaker or 5 more years of Opposition.

Second part of the argument is that sitting Conservative Deputy Speaker, Eleanor Laing, seeking re-election in Epping Forest, would be re-elected as a Deputy Speaker.

The third part of the argument is where it gets a little bit problematic:

In return for supporting a minority government, some of the smaller parties are thinking of demanding the right to nominate one of their MPs for the prestigious and powerful post of senior deputy and chairman of ways and means. The likeliest candidate is the DUP's Westminster leader, Nigel Dodds.

There is just a teensy-weensy little problem - it doesn't work that way. It's like the perennial Daily Mail idea that Adam Afriye, seeking re-election in Windsor, is going to be a "stalking horse" in a Conservative leadership election.

The 3 Deputy Speakers are chosen according to guidelines set out by the Procedures Committee. In the olden days, yes the front-benches stitched up the selection process carefully chose the most appropriate people to be Deputy Speakers.

If that system still existed, then a deal could be made where Dodds, the Democratic Unionist Party deputy leader, seeking re-election in Belfast North (where he is helped by an electoral pact with the Ulster Unionist Party, which seems to involve giving the DUP the easy-to-win seats and the UUP the hard-to-win ones), becomes a Deputy Speaker.

But those days have gone.

No minor party need to demand "the right to nominate". The Procedures Committee report states:

47. In keeping with the principles set out above, we believe that the nomination process for the Deputy Speakers should mirror that for the Speaker, with appropriate adaptations to meet the need to elect three Members, rather than one. We therefore recommend that there be a minimum number of sponsors required and that only that number be published, regardless of the level of support beyond that threshold. We consider that an appropriate rule would be that a candidate’s nomination should be supported by a minimum of six and a maximum of ten Members of the House. Members should be able to sign no more than three nomination papers, reflecting the number of posts to be filled, and the names of the sponsors should be published. We have considered carefully whether the rules should stipulate that a candidate should receive cross-party support, defining a minimum level either from the candidate’s own party or from other parties. On balance, we do not believe that there is a need for such a rule since the publication of the sponsors will reveal from where a candidate draws his support and, unlike the Speaker, the Deputy Speakers will each be elected partly because of their party allegiance.

We need to have a quick look at the DUP prospects, with them winning 8 seats in Northern Ireland in May 2010. Their closest calls were in Antrim South (where William McCrea - now in his fourth non-consecutive tenure as an MP - is seeking re-election) and Upper Bann (where David Simpson is seeking re-election).

Antrim South is a DUP/UUP marginal, and Danny Kinahan, UUP Member of the Legislative Assembly for the seat, must be hoping that Traditional Unionist Voice improves on its 2010 showing and draws enough of McCrea's support for the seat to fall to the UUP. Upper Bann is now a 3-way DUP/UUP/Sinn Féin marginal. At a stretch, Sinn Féin's Cat Seeley could squeeze the Social Democratic & Labour Party vote severely, and the Unionist vote could splinter in such a way to see her elected.

The realistic worst-case scenario for the DUP would be the loss of Antrim South to the UUP - but that would still leave Dodds with 6 parliamentary colleagues who could sign his nomination papers.

The DUP's parliamentary strength is sufficient for it to have "the right to nominate" without having to plead with a major party.

We then need to come to the election itself:

54. In keeping with the principle that the electoral system should be swift and efficient, we narrowed this down to two options, both of which involve Members marking their ballot papers only once, allowing the counting system to take care of the result. These were: multi-X voting and STV. Following further discussion with the Electoral Reform Services on how these systems would work in practice, we conclude that both would serve our purposes but that STV has unique advantages in that it would ensure that no votes are wasted; that all successful candidates have a significant level of support; and that it is less likely to result in a lower placed candidates taking a post with far fewer votes than several candidates with a higher shares of the vote. We are also advised that STV would make it far more difficult for the system to be manipulated by majority parties in order to thwart the opposition in its choice of candidates. We recommend that the House adopt STV for the purposes of electing the Deputy Speakers, with constraints that of those elected two candidates must come from the opposite side of the House to that from which the Speaker was drawn and one from the same side, and that at least one man and at least one woman must be elected across the four posts of Speaker and Deputy Speaker combined.

With the Single Transferable Vote, we are looking at a quota of around 150-160ish. To be realistic, it is extremely unlikely that there will be that number of MPs outside the two main parties.

I now need to look at the status of John Bercow, the sitting Speaker, who is seeking re-election in Buckingham. When he was first elected Speaker, he was a Conservative MP, although when he was re-elected Speaker after the 2010 election, Hansard referred to him as an Independent MP.

Two scenarios are now possible:

  1. A Conservative-led Government, so 1 Deputy Speaker comes from the Government and 2 from the Opposition
  2. A Labour-led Government, so 2 Deputy Speakers come from the Government and 1 from the Opposition

And from the report:

37. We raised in our previous report the need to consider how this would be affected by a hung parliament. It would be possible to devise a system, similar to that used to determine the allocation of committee places, which could calculate the exact proportion of membership in the House and apply a formula to each of the three available Deputy Speakerships. However, the number of posts in question is too small to make these calculations meaningful and we believe that the House needs a system which is simple to understand and robust enough to withstand either a hung parliament or a landslide majority. We therefore consider that the party balance should be defined for the purpose of electing the Deputy Speakers as two Members from the Government side of the House and two from the opposition across the panel of Speaker and Deputies, regardless of the exact party proportions in the House. Opposition should be defined as not belonging to the governing party, thus including independents and all other parties. This would have the additional advantage of giving stability and legitimacy to the Chair in a situation where a handful of seats changing hands could alter the majority/minority balance and otherwise lead to calls for a change in the Deputy Speakerships.

The Procedures Committee would remember the Labour landslides of May 1997 and June 2001.

In the first of these, there would have been 656 MPs eligible to vote for the Deputy Speakers (the 659 MPs excluding the then-Speaker, Betty Boothroyd, and 2 Sinn Féin MPs) - if all had voted, the quota would have been 165 MPs - precisely the number of Conservatives elected. 2001 was not much of an improvement.

The Committee wishes to avoid the situation where a party enjoying such a landslide produces the Speaker and 2 Deputy Speakers.

Opposition should be defined as not belonging to the governing party, thus including independents and all other parties.

This is where it gets interesting. What happens with a confidence-and-supply deal? Or a different type of arrangement that falls short of formal coalition?

Peter Robinson, the DUP leader and MLA for Belfast East, who is Northern Ireland's First Minister, has hedged his bets about which party the DUP would support, but has confirmed "We will not seek, nor would we accept, any role in government".

So, even if the DUP were propping up a minority Government, for the purposes of the Deputy Speakerships it would still count as an Opposition party. And, if there is a Labour-led Government, surely it would be Laing as the sole Opposition Deputy Speaker.

It would be highly unlikely that there could be a DUP Deputy Speaker. It is not there for the Government to offer as a deal-breaker. It is up to a Parliament in which, at best, the DUP would have around 1.5% of the MPs.

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