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Tony Benn MP
"I'm not a candidate"
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Monday, 7 August, 2000, 12:49 GMT 13:49 UK
Benn denies seeking Speaker job
Tony Benn speaking at a rally against bombing Yugoslavia
Tony Benn has been urged to stand as Speaker
Tony Benn says MPs from all parties have urged him to stand as Speaker of the House of Commons - but insists he is not running for the post.

But the Labour left-winger and former cabinet minister stopped short of unambiguously ruling himself out of the contest, leaving enough leeway for his supporters still to persuade him to go for the job.

When you get to my age, you have age, experience and energy, but absolutely no personal ambition

Tony Benn

"I'm not seeking nomination, I'm not a candidate and I'm not seeking the job," he told BBC News Online. "But I do want people to listen to what I'm saying about the job."

The veteran parliamentarian said the only campaign he was engaged in was "a serious campaign to get the House of Commons to accept the reality that it is being progressively sidelined".

He hoped to use the media speculation on the possibility of his becoming Speaker to draw attention to issues he had long championed, such as of the rights of Parliament to hold the executive to account.

Ideas for Speaker

In between protestations that he was not after the job, however, the 75-year-old nevertheless hinted that Speaker Benn would be the enemy of the government's spin machine - a common target for criticism by MPs on all sides.

"If something has already been leaked and announced on the Today programme, the Speaker could refuse to allow the minister concerned to make the relevant statement on the policy to the House," said Mr Benn.

"Or the Speaker could call an emergency debate of the Commons on the issue and demand to know where the leak came from."

Tony Benn in his study
Current Speaker Betty Boothroyd stands down at the end of the summer; her successor is due to be chosen by MPs in October.

"I have been approached," Mr Benn told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. But since he was not aiming to be nominated for Speaker, he was not a candidate "in that sense".

According to Labour allies of the MP, it was independent-minded Conservative MPs that first approached Mr Benn soon after Miss Boothroyd announced her retirement.

Labour backbenchers then joined in urging him to stand. Last week left-wing Labour weekly newspaper Tribune backed him for the job.

Dragged to the chair

Last year, Mr Benn announced his intention to stand down from Parliament at the next election. This week he reiterated that he would not seek the Labour nomination for his Chesterfield seat.

MPs with a Machiavellian mindset have pointed out that as Speaker, he would not need to. By long-held convention, the holder of the post traditionally runs for Parliament as "Speaker", as opposed to under any party label.

The mainstream political parties do not contest the seat in question.

Tradition also holds that contenders for Speaker do not openly campaign for the job or seek the nomination. The position is supposed to be taken on with great reluctance - to the extent that once elected, the victor is ceremonially "dragged" to the Speaker's chair in the chamber.

'No personal ambition'

Outlining his concerns on Parliament's status, Mr Benn said: "The House of Commons is being completely sidelined. We have a president using prerogative powers and if you are going to have a president, you need a House of Representatives."

"People are being managed and not represented and that has got to be reversed, otherwise the House of Commons really could die, literally die, and that is my main concern."

On the idea of becoming Speaker, he said: "One of the great advantages of being 75 is, when you get to my age, you have age, experience and energy, but absolutely no personal ambition.

"But I am determined before I leave the House of Commons - whenever that is - that we try to get the House of Commons back to its central role of representing people, because at the moment we are managed, sidelined, ignored, and that is a sentiment going right across the political spectrum."

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See also:

27 Jul 00 | Talking Politics
The new Speaker: runners and riders
17 Jul 00 | Talking Politics
Who will replace the Speaker?
28 Jun 99 | UK Politics
Benn to stand down
30 Dec 99 | UK Politics
Review of 1999: Tony Benn
27 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Speaker goes out on a high note
14 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Dunwoody confirms Speaker candidacy
12 Jul 00 | UK Politics
The role of the Speaker
14 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Speaking off message
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