If Margaret Beckett is elected Speaker later today it will be the best rigged free vote in the history of the House of Commons if the rumours that are emerging today are true. Not least because the whips don't merely need to prevent MPs going into a particular devision lobby this time, they have to be sure that they vote in a secret ballot the right way.
This intimidation of voters at the ballot box was done away with for Parliamentary elections not last century but the century before that. At a time when Parliament is desperately in need of another reform act the one thing it doesn't need presiding from the Speaker's Chair is the one candidate that has not backed plans to remove the power of patronage from the Whips Office (which probably explains why the Government Whips and senior Tories are backing her) which would allow the MPs not the whips to select the committee chairs.
There is a call from more transparency in Government but as reported on my blog and elsewhere there are plans afoot for Parliament to retreat tortoiselike back into its shell. It poked its head nervously out over the parapit and didn't like the look in the voters eyes. The eyes that were angry because they had been promised something that was sadly lacking behind expectation when it came to be enacted upon.
The timetable of events today is:
9:30 Candidates have an hour to submit their nomination papers with 12-15 signatories (at least 3 from outside their party)
11:00 Names will be published around Parliament and on their website
14:30 Father of the House Alan Williams will preside over the speeches of the candidates
Approx 16:30 The voting takes place. There are 30 minutes for MPs to cast their vote in each round.
Any candidate getting less than 5% or who comes last is eliminated. New ballot papers will be drawn up and second and sunsequent votes will take place. (Expected time per round of voting 2 hours voting, counting and reproducing fresh ballot papers)
Once a candidate is sucessful there will be a motion put to the House that X shall be speaker. If contested there will be a vote. If motion is agreed to the traditional dragging to the chair will take place of the sucessful now, suddenly less than willing volunteer to the Chair will take place.