Wales

Rhondda MP Chris Bryant on his bid to be Commons Speaker

Chris Bryant
Image caption Chris Bryant has represented Rhondda in Parliament since 2001

There is some knowledge that every aspiring Speaker of the House of Commons must have.

An encyclopaedic grasp of the parliamentary rulebook Erskine-May, and also an unhealthy interest in the British constitution, is the minimum requirement.

But, as he runs for election to succeed John Bercow in November, Welsh MP Chris Bryant's knowledge of Parliament is now more intimate than he could ever previously have imagined.

"I know the medical history of almost every MP," he readily admits, after a challenging year.

The Rhondda MP was treated for stage three skin cancer in March, prompting others on the green benches to share their own private struggles with him.

"At a time when most people in the country think parliament is a bear pit, I have never seen in any other work place so many casual moments of sincere kindness and extraordinary generosity," he said.

"And that's from people who are your political opponents.

"It has affected me."

Inspired by a renewed sense of the decency of MPs on all sides, Mr Bryant is one of nine MPs now bidding to succeed John Bercow.

And he is promising to bring a pastoral approach to the role, as one might expect from a former Church of England vicar.

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Media captionBeing diagnosed with cancer was like being "punched in the stomach"

He said: "Sometimes I think MPs need more of a cwtch. It's been really tough.

"I've seen a lot of MPs in tears because of some of the stuff that has been said to them or sent through the post.

"And they really worry for their families."

Bryant is promising to open up the Speaker's House on the parliamentary estate to the spouses and partners of MPs to increase support.

Image copyright UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor
Image caption The Speaker's job is to keep order in the Commons

But there is a hard edge to his campaign too.

The Speaker is the chief officer and highest authority of the House of Commons.

They also chair debates, call MPs to speak and are required to act with complete impartiality.

Mr Bryant says he will be "an umpire, not a player," a thinly veiled reference to Bercow, who has been accused of making partisan rulings, particularly in relation to Brexit.

"He appears to be pitching himself as the antidote to John Bercow, promising to restore neutrality in much more explicit terms than Lindsay Hoyle [the current deputy speaker and favourite]," says Katy Balls, deputy political editor of The Spectator.

"If Chris Bryant can get these MPs on side and get them to switch from Hoyle to him, he does stand a chance."

Image copyright UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor
Image caption John Bercow - who has held the office since 2009 - is standing down on 31 October

Mr Bryant admits that Bercow "has done a lot of great things" but he thinks the new Speaker needs to be a "breath of fresh air."

"I really like the idea of an independent Speaker who is beholden to nobody, has no favourites, no favourite arguments," he said.

"I think everyone has been tearing up the rule book.

"The biggest danger if the next Speaker is partisan is that, as soon as a government arrives with a majority, it will just seize the chair back for themselves, turning the Speaker into a government toady."

He said this would be a "terrible mistake".

Mr Bryant added: "When I was a vicar, I had to put all my political views in a box and leave them at home and not bring them into the pulpit.

"So it's exactly the same. I would defy anybody if I am elected ever to be able to spot what my political views are."

'Ruthlessly exploit'

Mr Bryant has sent a handwritten letter to each of the 643 MPs who are eligible to vote on 4 November.

But he is also keen to reassure his constituents in the Rhondda Valley that they would still be represented effectively.

"People have been asking whether it means I wouldn't be able to stand up for the Rhondda anymore," he said.

"John Bercow and Betty Boothroyd both said to me that no minister ever says 'no' to a meeting because they don't want to get a rough time the next time they are in the chamber.

"You have to ruthlessly exploit every single connection and all the access you have on behalf of your constituency."

He described children in Llwyncelyn Primary and members of Ferndale rugby club as being in favour, adding: "If I win, it will be as much because MPs have a bit of respect for the Rhondda as anything they think about me."

The full interview is on BBC Wales Live, 10:35 BST, Wednesday 9 October, BBC One Wales.

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