Nine MPs are in the running to take over as Speaker of the House of Commons from the eccentric incumbent, John Bercow, on 4 November.
At the hustings in Westminster on Wednesday, 9 October, the favourite, Lindsay Hoyle, who is currently the Deputy Speaker, said: “I am fair, I am neutral. I don’t want to have a view on Brexit at all after 4 November.”
Mr Hoyle, who has sat in the Speaker’s chair on a number of occasions, notably on Budget days, also hit out at the drinking culture in Parliament and said he believed some MPs and their staff might need counselling for alcohol and drug problems.
In response to a question by a Guardian journalist, Mr Hoyle said: “It’s not just drink we’ve got to catch out, there is a drug problem. I genuinely believe that counselling and real support should be available for all staff and members.”
Many MPs are keen on the idea of having a female Speaker - the first since the legendary Betty Boothroyd, who stepped down in 2000.
One of the most impressive female candidates is Harriet Harman, a former Deputy Leader of the Labour Party.
Ms Harman said she felt Bercow had remained neutral and she pledged to continue his work.
John Bercow has done his second sit down interview with CNN in less than 9 months.... pitching for work on the lucrative U.S. speaking circuit much? pic.twitter.com/gCALiE5yuc— John Stevens (@johnestevens) October 9, 2019
She said: “The Speaker must be the servant of Parliament, and it cannot be impartial on that.”
Dame Rosie Winterton, a Labour MP from Doncaster, said: “People are thinking that it would be quite good for a Yorkshire woman to be the Speaker of the House. I would wear a Yorkshire rose badge to emphasise my approach of unity, stabilisation and reaching out across the UK to show that Parliament is truly representative of the regions and countries.”
The New Statesman reported that former Conservative minister Shailesh Vara, one of the outsiders in the race, said Mr Bercow had acted like a “playground bully” and had demeaned the office’s impartial role.
Much consensus at 1st Speaker hustings on dangerous times facing our parliamentary democracy, need for strong, respected Speaker & essential reform of Commission and Chamber behaviour! #SpeakHer #PressLobby @christopherhope pic.twitter.com/GdEFVGu1oD— Harriet Harman (@HarrietHarman) October 10, 2019
Two other Conservative MPs - Sir Edward Leigh and Henry Bellingham - agreed with Vara, with Sir Edward saying Bercow was perceived as a biased referee by many people.
Eleanor Laing, another Tory, said it was “not hard” to remain impartial as Speaker and she said Bercow’s eccentric style had stirred up tensions and made the febrile atmosphere even worse.
Hustings for next Speaker of the Commons, succeeding John Bercow. Labour's Chris Bryant has gone the extra mile by handing this out to all journalists pic.twitter.com/cDYkMcynVy— Michael Deacon (@MichaelPDeacon) October 9, 2019
Also in the running are Labour MPs Chris Bryant and Meg Hillier.
MPs will vote early next month and the new Speaker will be in the chair on 4 November, which may or may not be after Brexit.