We store cookies on your device to make sure we give you the best experience on this website. I'm fine with this - Turn cookies off
Switch to an accessible version of this website which is easier to read. (requires cookies)

Why there is no Lib Dem candidate in the Buckingham Constituency in GE 2017

June 6, 2017 9:47 PM

( 6 June, 2017)

Cross in BoxWe are sorry there is no Lib Dem candidate in the Buckingham constituency, and that once again electors here have had no proper choice of possible MP, unlike every other seat in the UK.

We had established with our national party that we had the right to stand a candidate to oppose Mr Speaker, and had in fact appointed one in late April this year. However she was persuaded to stand down by party officials.

The Conservatives and Labour are not standing here either, observing the convention, outdated in our view, that Mr Speaker is not opposed.

So your choice is Mr Speaker, Green, an Independent, who was a Lib Dem member until he resigned just before the election (he would have been expelled anyway for opposing the party line) and UKIP. We hope this is the last time people here do not have a full choice, but checking the entry on this website from May 7th 2015, we said exactly the same then.

The full story.

In this constituency, General Election 2017 has passed us by. No matter how we vote, 78,000 people in the Buckingham Constituency can have no impact on that struggle between opposing parties and the Conservatives (which means effectively Mrs May's quasi-presidential leadership). We will have no influence over whether or not the PM wins even a respectable majority, not to mention the landslide she had been hoping for.

That's because we live in the seat of the Speaker of the House of Commons. And, once again, honouring the time-dishonoured convention, none of the three major parties is fielding candidates against Mr Speaker. (John Bercow stands as "Mr Speaker Seeking Re-election".)

So is it right that enough electors to fill the Olympic Stadium be mere bystanders in this vital political debate, with no opportunity to influence its outcome?

We know that many of the voters in this constituency think it isn't, and agree that the convention to not oppose the Speaker is a throwback to a more deferential, forelock-touching time, and that it has no place in the political life of emancipated UK today.

Particularly so in the face of the almost admonitory appeals to the electorate, flowing from politicians and the media, for us to engage in the democratic process. And particularly for young people to do so.

The tradition not to stand candidates against the Speaker has been in place for as long as there has been a universal suffrage. It has been breached in past elections by the two parties above, and in the past by the SNP, Labour and the Liberal/SDP Alliance. But these breaks with convention, at least by the big parties, seem to have had more to do with political expediency, or dislike of a particular Speaker, than the wish to make a point against an outdated, unwritten understanding. Only the Conservatives have observed the tradition without a break.

The election of an MP by his or her fellows to the role of Speaker, who then becomes an MP of no party affiliation, results in that person being unable to represent constituents in parliament, either in debates or by voting. Without the support of a political party behind him or her, the Speaker also has little influence behind the scenes, although Mr Bercow does claim to have been a very busy constituency MP. This means voters in the Speaker's seat are effectively disenfranchised. Speakers, as far as their constituents are concerned, can do little more than take on the casework of individual constituents (and we would argue that many individual constituents's issue should be taken up by a district or county councillor) and give their backing to local campaigns.

We argue that there is a way of electing. or re-electing, the Speaker that doesn't require a random, sizeable group of voters to pass up their right to vote, with the full choice of candidates other constituencies offer, in a General Election.

At the party's Federal Spring Conference in 2014, delegates adopted the policy paper Power to the People, a package of political and constitutional reforms "designed to engage people with the political system….where Westminster is openly accountable to the public it serves". The paper included the "St Stephens" proposal. The idea is that once a Speaker is elected, he or she becomes the MP for the St Stephens constituency (named after the former chapel in the old Palace of Westminster), made up only of MPs. A by-election would then be held in the Speaker's original constituency.

The St Stephens solution, or an equivalent, was advanced as long ago as 1935 in Parliament, and has been raised again several times since. This may not be the perfect solution - it could be said to sever the direct link between the Speaker and the electorate, for example. (Although the Speaker would still be an elected MP.) But it serves at least as a promising starting point for the formidable brainpower of Parliament's constitutional experts to consider if they were minded to seek an answer.

The local Lib Dem constituency party executive had campaigned for this option, and the right to put up a candidate to contest the seat since 2009, shortly after Mr Bercow was voted in as Speaker, while wishing no respect for the dignity of his office.

In 2015 the local party received a final go-ahead only a short time before nominations closed, but was unable to find an approved candidate willing to stand who was not committed elsewhere, in the very short selection time frame. Even then, to show the enduring strength of the convention, it was told by several of the potential candidates that they did not think the Speaker should be opposed.

Nevertheless the days of this ancient, anomalous convention may be numbered. It is distinctly possible, if not likely, that, whichever is the Speaker's seat in 2022, there will at least be a fully-sanctioned Lib Dem candidate standing. Whether he or she is joined by Labour and the Conservatives, remains to be seen, unless Parliament has its own ideas in the interim.