VETERAN Labour MP Ronnie Campbell has declared Sir Alan Beith is his “number one” choice to become the new Commons Speaker.
In a further boost, former Cabinet minister Hilary Armstrong said Berwick MP Sir Alan had “gravitas” and should stand for the key post after current Speaker Michael Martin announced he would quit next month.
Liberal Democrat Sir Alan has also won support on Facebook, the social networking website, with a group set up to back his bid to become Speaker.
The developments came as Sir Alan told The Journal he claimed around £5,000 to replace a 1960s kitchen and install new appliances in his London flat three years ago. His wife paid the other half of the bill. Sir Alan said he had always rented accommodation in the same block of flats for 30 years and that the kitchen, along with second-hand appliances, needed changing.
He also inadvertently claimed for his television licence twice in one year, but immediately put a cheque in the post to correct the mistake.
“I think members understand we have got to have accommodation. The very fact I have rented all this time shows I wasn’t out to make a profit from the allowances,” said Sir Alan.
Sir Alan added he received many encouraging messages after The Journal revealed he is in the running to become the next Commons Speaker.
Outlining his manifesto, he said: “The next Speaker has got to take a lead in reform, carrying through this process of making sure all the pay and expenses are dealt with outside the House.” The MP added the Commons needed overhauling to ensure it serves the public and held the Government properly to account and better consider laws currently rushed through Parliament.
“The purpose of MPs is to do these things effectively. Parliament has not organised itself properly to do that,” he said.
Labour MP Ronnie Campbell, who represents Blyth Valley, said: “He is my number one choice unless someone better comes along. He has got a lot of experience in Parliament and knows the game.”
Former Cabinet minister Hilary Armstrong, MP for Durham North West, said: “I am not going to say at this stage who I am going to support because we are a long way off. But Alan has got gravitas, I think he has got the authority.”
She added Sir Alan would be good at the Speaker’s job away from chairing the Commons, which includes being the face of Parliament and management responsibilities.
Sir Alan’s bid to become Speaker has also found favour online, with Lib Dem Newcastle activist James Kenyon setting up a Facebook group backing his bid.
Mr Kenyon said he founded the group before Michael Martin resigned as he began considering who might best take over. “I thought for a few seconds and it was a bit of a no-brainer for me. (Sir Alan) has been in Parliament for over 35 years. He commands respects across the parties.”
A stitch-up in 2000
THE last election for the Commons Speaker was "sewn up" for Michael Martin, according to Sir Alan Beith.
In his autobiography, the Berwick MP recorded that he stood to replace Betty Boothroyd as Speaker in October 2000 in a "bizarre" election involving 12 candidates.
He also revealed that it was unhelpful that fellow Liberal Democrat Sir Menzies Campbell stood – as he may yet this time in the election to replace Mr Martin.
"It was a bizarre election, with 12 candidates, and a tortuous and previously untried electoral process in which MPs spent most of a day walking through the division lobbies to vote for or against each candidate, one after another.
"I had some support on both Labour and Conservative benches and strong support from my own party and from the minority parties.
"However, that scarcely mattered because the whole election was being sewn up for Michael Martin by trade union Labour MPs, who saw it as a licensed opportunity to rebel against Tony Blair.
"The Prime Minister was thought to be favourable to an Opposition Speaker, whether it was a Liberal Democrat or a Conservative. Here was a chance for old Labour to defy their leader without provoking a crisis."