To avoid any undue influence with the official odds, I have ignored them in deciding my own from my vantage point on the back bench of the Commons. This time it will be a secret ballot. Mo Mowlam said last time she was forced by the whips to change her support from Gwyneth Dunwoody to Michael Martin. The whips lose their control in a secret ballot. It will be a fairer reflection of the will of the House.
Alan Beith:Bright, cultured, breezy, no enemies, a rich literary hinterland. Recently coasted along in neutral gear, enjoying life and not taking the political fray too seriously. Has faded into the parliamentary background and became invisible. Sees politics as a spectator sport. Verdict: A fine Speaker.
Menzies Campbell: Popular, respected and able. His spell as Leader of the LibDems diminished his stature. His previously image is now fuzzy with geriatric edges. A crucifying heckle destroyed him when he once hesitated at Prime Minister Question Time, 'What are these people doing in my bedroom?' Verdict: Would exceed expectations as Speaker.
Margaret Beckett: Brilliant, revered parliamentary treasure, acerbic, survivor. Has buried her natural venom and charmed her relentless perpetual survival in high office, uber loyalty to Blair/Brown has neutralised her past radical reputation, excites respect rather than affection. Weakened by past reform-free record and suspicions of opportunism. Could steal some of Bercow's Labour votes. Verdict: An authoritative successful Speaker.
Patrick Cormack: Keeper of the Commons memory, unrivalled knowledge and love of Parliament. Fatally traditionalist-weakened by reform phobia. Fretted at the abandoning of the Commons Top Hat as a modernisation too far. As Speaker his reform dream could be the re-introduction of frock coats. A likely gold medallist in a competition for pomposity. Verdict: A fine Speaker for the 18th Century :
George Young: Distant, other-worldly persona of charm and strength. Has been the respected keeper of the Parliamentary conscience. His head-masterly lofty manner suggests a lack of warmth. Incurably associated with the dead 'Gentleman's Club' parliament. My choice last time. Verdict: A Great Speaker but a reluctant reformer.
Frank Field: Saintly, respected, diffident, has only one close friend and many enemies irritated by a surfeit of sanctity. More likely to be canonised than made Speaker. Loved by Tories for his serial dis-loyalism to Blair/Brown. Will attract few Labour votes. Clean hands on expenses. Tentative reformer who could be squashed by traditionalists. Lacks the big personality to command an unruly House Verdict: A respected but fragile Speaker.
Ann Widdecombe: Giant abrasive quick witted personality, wayward parliamentary career. Missed her vocation as a Mother Superior; resourceful and abundantly talented. Has endeared herself to the House with her robust defence of mild excesses. Aspirant MPs shop steward. A turbo-charged unguided missile and super spinster. Could be either a brilliant ambassador for a mutated parliament or a figure of national ridicule. MPs are hungry for swift reforms, not a short term Speaker. Verdict; A brilliant, exciting Speaker.
John Bercow: Prodigious intellect and memory, witty star performer, Once a sour and humourless Thatcherite. Has undergone a metamorphosis after marrying well. Not into money, but into enlightenment and socialism. He has two young children. His family has sensitised and enriched his political persona. Now campaigns with passion to end the neglect of childhood illnesses and to relieve global poverty. Has the most impressive record of all candidates on seeking parliamentary reforms. Verdict: A brilliant Speaker
Parmjit Dhanda: Popular, reliable, like many Brownite ministers, his sacking was as inexplicable as his appointment, a great constituency MP. Has come late into the race offering himself as an eloquent rebuttal of the election of BNP MEPs. Has no enemies. Could be an attractive second choice to many Labour MPs. Will suffer as a late candidate. Most MPs have already committed their support elsewhere.Verdict: A Good Speaker.
Alan Hazelhurst: Traditional Tory, a good unexciting Deputy Speaker, popular with some Tories. Will suffer through his association with the 'ancien regime'. His prolonged period as the bridesmaid dulls his prospects of getting the top job. Was once thought to be too close to air industry interests. Verdict: Sound but colourless Speaker.
Richard Shepherd: Impassioned, able, worthy, English nationalist, when excited speaks with a sob in his voice. His interests are far removed from those of most MPs. Judged to be an intriguing parliamentary oddity. A member of the small fraternity of MP smokers who huddle daily on the druggies area of the terrace. A traditionalist rather than a reformer. Verdict; A dedicated but eccentric Speaker:
Michael Lord: Friendly, personality-free hologram, politically inert. Part of the parliamentary furniture His long years as a deputy speaker has de-humanised him. No-one remembers what his interests are. In an exhaustive ballot he could attract second and thirds choices as an 'A.N. Other". Verdict: A competent risk-free Deputy Speaker: