Cameron Defeated as U.K. Parliament Closes for Election

The British Parliament of 2010, which began with cross-party co-operation and an unprecedented coalition, ended its five-year term with a procedural ambush driven by long-running personal feuds and humiliation for David Cameron’s government.

An attempt to enable the ousting of Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow was met with outrage from all sides of the chamber. Former Tory leader William Hague, trying to push the measure through on his final day in Parliament, was repeatedly told he had damaged his own reputation with the measure, which was voted down after an emotional debate.

Late on Wednesday, Hague proposed a motion to introduce secret ballots when lawmakers are asked, at the start of a new Parliament, whether they wish to keep the same speaker. That would have allowed Conservative members who have had disputes with Bercow to oppose him without fear of retribution.

The decision to call a vote without notice, when members of the opposition Labour Party had already left London, led to outrage even from Tories who supported the proposal. One of them, Charles Walker, the chairman of the Procedure Committee which had originally proposed the change, was close to tears as he attacked Hague for using his report in an ambush.

“How you treat people in this place is important,” Walker said. “I have been played as a fool. When I go home tonight I will look in the mirror and see an honorable fool looking back at me. I would much rather be an honorable fool than a clever man.”

Labour Applause

In a breach of parliamentary protocol, Labour members stood and applauded Walker’s speech and Bercow, too, appeared emotional. Hague made a small note on his papers. The government lost the vote by 228 to 202.

Cameron and other Tories have had a series of spats with Bercow, who used to be a Conservative lawmaker. The speaker has made it easier for members to call ministers to appear in Parliament and is given to interrupting proceedings and issuing rebukes to members who have irritated him. Cameron referred to the speaker as a “dwarf” in a speech to journalists in 2010.

“If they’d just tabled it in the usual way and had a debate, they’d probably have got it through,” said Philip Cowley, professor of politics at Nottingham University. “Instead they tried to be too clever by half. The motivations were too transparent and the method too shabby. And now Labour members are beginning the election campaign with a spring in their steps, and Conservatives are wondering if they’re led by competent people.”

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