The Speaker and elections

The choice of a Speaker was, for centuries, a well-entrenched system falling to the govening power but during the twentieth century this process became increasingly outdated resulting in a new secret ballot system first used in 2009.

Election of the Speaker

Although nominally a House of Commons matter, for many centuries, the choice of Speaker fell to the established governing power, be it the Sovereign or the Prime Minister and his closest advisors. With a few exceptions, the man chosen by the elite would then be endorsed by the House.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, this system was well-entrenched and was generally regarded as working well. It was rare for non-governing parties to put forward a rival candidate for Speaker.

Gradually, particularly in the second half of the twentieth century, backbench MPs began to assert greater independence and demand a bigger role in the selection of the Speaker. At the same time, more MPs began to compete for the office when it became vacant.

The established set of procedures for electing the Speaker allowed for the consideration of only two candidates at a time. These rules became outdated when there were multiple candidates – for example, five MPs stood for the job in 1992 and 12 MPs in 2000.

Thus, following the 2000 Speakership election, MPs approved a new, exhaustive secret ballot system. MPs are given a list of candidates and place an x next to the candidate of their choice.  If a candidate receives more than 50 per cent of the votes, the question is put to the House that he or she takes the chair as Speaker.

If no candidate does so, the candidate with the fewest votes, and those with less than five per cent of the vote, are eliminated. MPs then vote again on the reduced slate of candidates and continue doing so until one candidate receives more than half the votes. This procedure was used for the first time in 2009, when John Bercow was elected Speaker.

Speakers and general elections

Speakers still stand in general elections. They are generally unopposed by the major political parties, who will not field a candidate in the Speaker's constituency. During a general election, Speakers do not campaign on any political issues but simply stand as 'the Speaker seeking re-election'.

Last updated October 2016


 

Related information

Find out more about the Office of the Speaker

Discover the history of the Speakership

View the image galleries of The Speaker of the House of Commons