Since John Bercow became Speaker of the House of Commons, the Conservative MP for Buckingham has brought no shortage of colour and controversy to the role. Like him or not, he has certainly made parliamentary proceedings more entertaining.
On June 22nd, he will celebrate ten years in the job and many believe he will step down in the not too distant future. In theory he could be challenged but - having survived a decade of plotting from hostile Tory MPs and their media outriders, a bullying scandal and even Nigel Farage bidding for his constituency in 2010 - Bercow will likely take the option to go at a time of his own choosing. That, I guess, would be after Brexit.
Whilst that barely restricts the timeframe, this seems a good moment to weigh up the Next Speaker political betting market. Ladbrokes are offering odds making Lindsay Hoyle an overwhelming favourite at a best price of 4/5.
After such a long term, it is hard to recall precisely how previous heats panned out. Bercow wasn't favourite in 2009 - that was another Tory, Sir George Young - but was a prominent contender. In 2000, Michael Martin landed a gamble down from what, if memory serves, were big odds.
The electoral system is highly entertaining and ideal for in-play betting. Perhaps a dozen candidates will compete on a 'winner stays on' basis, with the House voting on a series of head-to-heads.
Bear in mind that process, and how MPs enjoy the sport of this particular election - it is perfect for plotting and tactical voting. Remember, for example, how Bercow got the job.
Although a Tory (once firmly on the Right of the party), Bercow moved leftwards during his career and embraced the social liberalism of New Labour. When he married arch-lefty Sally, Tories would often whisper that he'd crossed secretly to the other side.
When the contest came up, an unofficial convention implied it was the Tories' turn to provide the Speaker. Labour MPs - who often accused the Tories of a stitch-up to remove Martin - swung behind Bercow. Thus sticking to the convention whilst getting an ally with mutual enemies.
Bear all that in mind when weighing Lindsay Hoyle's chance. As Deputy Speaker, he is an obvious, major contender - popular and respected across the House. I doubt his odds will improve much once the contest starts but there must be plenty of scope for volatility once the head-to-head votes begin.
Harriet Harman is clear second favourite, ranging from 2/1 to a best price of 4/1 at Coral. Those odds imply she'll definitely run and Labour's former deputy leader is popular across the House. There will doubtless be those arguing for a female Speaker and, if promoting gender equality is the desired criteria, she's the perfect advocate.
Remember when this election takes place, Conservatives will probably have the largest number of MPs. Hoyle and Harman are both Labour and, whilst perfectly capable of cross-party support, will not get a free run.
Top among Tories in the betting is Charles Walker. An expert on parliamentary business and the Speaker's role, he is chair of the Procedure Committee. He is popular with MPs having championed an 11% pay raise. Get him onside at 10/1 with Paddy Power.
Likewise at 12/1, Elainor Laing looks overpriced. Like Hoyle, she is a Deputy Speaker and therefore both well qualified and liable to run. A history of Euroscepticism might help with Tory MPs and levelling what many see as Bercow's pro-Remain tenure.
If reaching out to Brexiters, why not take the 16/1 chance listed at Coral for Jacob Rees Mogg? It is an open secret that he cherishes this job more than any other and evidently knows parliamentary procedure inside out. The problem is how divisive JRM has become during Brexit and that could make it hard to find enough backers. Nevertheless, this would be a good means to get a potentially divisive leadership candidate out of the way. I doubt he'll win but suspect he'll trade a lot shorter once the contest begins.
Few others make much appeal. Labour's Chris Bryant is pretty divisive and therefore makes no appeal at 10/1.
At 25/1 with Paddy Power, Frank Field could definitely command support across the House. If there's a Labour version of Bercow - certain to be mistrusted by his own side and therefore very capable of gaining Tory backers - it is Field. He resigned the Labour whip rather than face deselection. Becoming Speaker would almost certainly ensure he keeps his seat.
I'm sure an outsider will emerge but none on the current bookies list appeals. For now, I'm backing Walker and Laing, hoping to get the leading Tory contender. If that position prospers, I'll look to cover on Hoyle.
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