Ex-shop steward Martin is Speaker

Labour MPs last night defied pressure from senior ministers when they voted to elect Michael Martin, a former shop steward from Labour's industrial heartlands, to become 152nd Speaker of the House of Commons - instead of the Old Etonian Tory ex-cabinet minister, Sir George Young.

After the father of the Commons, 84-year-old Sir Edward Heath, had rejected pleas for a straightforward ballot to choose from the 12 contenders, it took more than six hours of cumbersome voting to complete the election as even no-hopers took their turn - to the dismay of Westminster modernisers.

By the time it was over the once crowded chamber was almost deserted. Mr Martin was never fewer than 76 votes ahead of his 11 rivals and in no serious danger of defeat.

With the help of the ministerial "payroll vote" Sir George got closest, losing by 317 to 241. Labour's strongest challenger, the sacked cabinet minister David Clark, managed only 192 votes to the winner's 257. Menzies Campbell in the Lib Dem corner lost 403-89.

With Tony Blair not voting in person, but privately keen not to be seen to insist on a Labour Speaker, at least 25 ministers, including David Blunkett, Margaret Beckett, Jack Straw and Peter Mandelson, backed Sir George. But the move backfired as angry backbenchers protested at the tactic when the parliamentary Labour party met on the Commons' first day back since July 27. What they saw as inadvertent control freakery may cost another of yesterday's Young-backers, Clive Soley, his job as PLP chairman next month.

In picking the 55-year-old MP for Glasgow Springburn as successor to Betty Boothroyd, Labour backbenchers sent a complex series of messages to the government and the wider, watching electorate months before the general election.

He is the first Speaker to be an authentic representative of the industrial working class, the child of an impoverished broken home who met his wife in a factory. "My origin should be no reason for me being elected, nor should my origin be a reason to debar me," Mr Martin told MPs yesterday.

Mr Martin will be the first Roman Catholic Speaker since Henry VIII's Protestant Reformation, a symbol of old barriers falling as British political culture evolves. As an anti-devolution Scot he may also prove a symbol of the enduring union between England and Scotland.

After the traditional dragging of the new Speaker to the chair - a relic of times when it was a high-risk office - Mr Martin last night promised to uphold the rights and duties of the Commons, not least in resisting a government whose huge majority allows it to bypass the House. "Michael will be tough," one close ally predicted.

Yesterday's contest was conducted in fierce but fair-minded terms after Sir Edward had resisted calls from senior MPs on both sides, led by Tony Benn, to use his brief afternoon of power to tear up rules not devised for a multi-candidate contest. He expressed "considerable sympathy" and offered his own version of a compromise.

That was to set out the order in which he intended to call the 12 contenders, who would be voted on two at a time. Unexpectedly he started with the bookies' favourite, Mr Martin. Equally unexpectedly he let the contest run to the bitter end.

By general consent Gwyneth Dunwoody made the most impassioned speech and Sir George the most elegant. But Mr Martin did what ex-shop stewards do: won the vote by planning and hard graft.

Each rival's name was added as an amendment to the motion:

Sir Alan Haselhurst (Con) lost by 140 to 345

Alan Beith (Lib Dem) 83 to 409

Gwyneth Dunwoody (Lab) 170 to 341

Sir George Young (Con) 241 to 317

Menzies Campbell (Lib Dem) 98 to 381

David Clark (Lab) 192 to 257

Nicholas Winterton (Con) 116 to 340

John McWilliam (Lab) 30 to 309

Michael Lord (Con) 146 to 290

Sir Patrick Cormack (Con) 130 to 287

Richard Shepherd (Con) 136 to 282


Michael White, political editor

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Ex-shop steward Martin is Speaker
Labour MPs last night defied pressure from senior ministers when they voted to elect Michael Martin, a former shop steward from Labour's industrial heartlands, to become 152nd Speaker of the House of Commons - instead of the Old Etonian Tory ex-cabinet minister Sir George Young.

By: Michael White Political editor

24, Oct, 2000 @5:12 PM

Tories warm to Benn plan for Speaker
Tony Benn's plan to reform the way of choosing the Speaker of the Commons yesterday won the backing of the Conservative front runner, Sir George Young.

Michael White, political editor

19, Oct, 2000 @12:50 AM

Young quits shadow post to stand as Speaker
The former transport secretary, Sir George Young, yesterday resigned as shadow leader of the Commons to join the race to succeed Betty Boothroyd as Speaker.

Nicholas Watt, political correspondent

23, Sep, 2000 @2:20 PM

Article image
John Bercow wins race to be new Commons Speaker

• Sir George Young beaten in third round
• Ann Widdecombe was knocked out in second

Deborah Summers, politics editor

22, Jun, 2009 @7:55 PM

MPs' expenses: What the contenders for Commons Speaker have claimed

Details of expenses claims for the 11 candidates for the Speakership, and some of their responses

Deborah Summers, politics editor

18, Jun, 2009 @5:33 PM

Martin on course to win Speakership
Labour MP Michael Martin looks set to succeed Betty Boothroyd as Speaker of the House of Commons after his main rival, Sir George Young, was rejected by 317 to 241 votes.

Staff and agencies

23, Oct, 2000 @4:39 PM

Article image
Simon Hoggart on the resignation of Speaker Martin of the Commons

Simon Hoggart on the resignation of Speaker Michael Martin of the Commons

Simon Hoggart

20, May, 2009 @8:02 AM

Speaker Martin re-elected
Michael Martin was re-elected unopposed as Speaker of the Commons yesterday after a threatened challenge by Conservatives unhappy with his record failed to materialise.

Lucy Ward, political correspondent

14, Jun, 2001 @12:29 AM

Michael Martin: Speaker cornered
Michael Martin's response to the MPs' expenses scandal is not the first controversy the Speaker has courted

Paul Owen

19, May, 2009 @6:46 PM

What makes him want the job?
As Sir George Young joked before he lost yesterday's election for Speaker, the job is as historically dangerous as the England football manager's. Yet up to a dozen MPs wanted it.

Michael White

24, Oct, 2000 @1:18 AM