UK lawmakers electing new speaker to replace John Bercow

LONDON (AP) — British lawmakers were electing a new House of Commons speaker on Monday, with the seven contenders promising to bring a period of calm after the tempestuous tenure of the influential but controversial John Bercow.

Members of Parliament were voting by secret ballot for a successor to Bercow, who retired last week after a decade as speaker that saw him become a central player in Britain’s Brexit drama.

Like Bercow, the new speaker will run the daily business of the Commons, keeping lawmakers in line with robust cries of “Order!”

Some politicians, however, want to see a more cautious approach than that taken by Bercow, who prided himself on making the government answer to Parliament. The speaker is supposed to be an impartial arbiter of Parliament’s rules, but critics accused Bercow of favoring anti-Brexit politicians at the expense of those supporting Britain’s departure from the European Union.

Bercow denied bias, but clashed with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government, and strongly opposed Johnson’s attempt to suspend Parliament for five weeks as an Oct. 31 Brexit deadline approached. The U.K. Supreme Court overturned Johnson’s shutdown.

With Parliament divided over the best way ahead, the EU has granted Britain an extension to its impending departure until Jan. 31.

The seven contenders all made five-minute pitches to lawmakers, with many vowing to bring a change of tone and temperament to a political system that has been strained by Brexit.

Rosie Winterton, currently one of three deputy speakers, said she would “douse the flames, not pour petrol on them. . calming the tone and lowering the temperature when the House gets overheated.”

Labour lawmaker Chris Bryant said he would be “a speaker who is an umpire, not a player,” in what appeared to be a dig at Bercow.

“We need to rebuild confidence and trust in our politics and it must begin with this election today,” said Eleanor Laing, another deputy speaker running for the top job. “There is a time for continuity and a time for change. This is a time for change.”

If no candidate gets majority support, there will be rounds of voting, with the lowest-placed contender dropping out each time, until one candidate does have a majority.

The choice of a new speaker comes a day before Parliament is dissolved for a Dec. 12 national election in which all 650 seats in the House of Commons are up for grabs. Johnson’s Conservatives are hoping to win a majority that could unblock Britain’s political deadlock and let Johnson fulfill his pledge to take Britain out of the EU.

The opposition left-of-center Labour Party is trying to shift the campaign’s focus from Brexit to domestic political issues such as schools, health care and Britain’s social inequities.

The centrist Liberal Democrats, who want to cancel Brexit, and the single-issue Brexit Party, which favors a no-deal exit from the bloc, are battling for British voters with strong views on whether the U.K. should quit the 28-nation EU.

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