Sir Lindsay Hoyle: The new Speaker is a world away from Bercow – in more ways than one

Sir Lindsay Hoyle

John Bercow is an obsessive fan of Arsenal FC and tennis legend Roger Federer. His Tory critics claim that, in the Speaker’s chair, he was verbose and biased.

His successor Sir Lindsay Hoyle, MP for the Lancashire town of Chorley, is a devotee of Warrington Wolves rugby league team, Bolton Wanderers FC and Lancashire County Cricket Club.

And in nine years as a deputy speaker – unlike Mr Bercow – he has been straight talking, down to earth and has mostly avoided the sort of controversy and clashes with ministers that Mr Bercow appeared to relish.

That’s ultimately why he has been elected to succeed the long-winded Mr Bercow, who always seemed to use 100 words when 10 would do and treated points of order from MPs as his own personal Question Time.

Around Westminster, Sir Lindsay is an avuncular and popular figure. No preening or pomposity from him, unlike his predecessor, his supporters and Mr Bercow’s critics would claim.

He will have enjoyed the banter over his strange photo he tweeted watching England’s Rugby World Cup defeat, where he appeared to be looking away from the TV.

The seven candidates’ speeches at the start of the lengthy and at times tortuous process to elect the new Speaker were noticeable for the fierce criticism of Mr Bercow by nearly all the candidates, even though they didn’t mention him by name.

And none paid tribute to him.

Dame Rosie Winterton said the Speaker should not “dominate proceedings” and that urgent questions to ministers and government statements “should not take hours”, before adding: “Neither should PMQs.”

Chris Bryant, clearly with Mr Bercow’s fondness for tennis in mind, said the Speaker should be “an umpire, not a player”.

And Dame Eleanor Laing said the Speaker should be “not the ruler of the House, but its servant”.

Sir Lindsay’s speech pitching for the top job at the start of the bizarre ritual of the election for Speaker was just like him – low-key, not flashy, safety first and an appeal to MPs to judge him on his record in the chair.

Like a Warrington Wolves full-back or a fielder in the deep for his beloved Lancashire CCC, Sir Lindsay is a safe pair of hands.

Not that he’s dull, however.

He revealed in a Sunday Times interview that he has a pet parrot called Boris, “named after the loquacious prime minister”, the paper said, who has already mastered the Speaker’s cry of “Order, order!”

He also owns a Patterdale terrier called Betty, named after Speaker Boothroyd, who was up in the peers’ gallery for the seven candidates’ speeches at the start of the election process.

That’s not all. He has a rottweiler called Gordon, who has – he says – a “clunking paw”, like his namesake Gordon Brown, and Maggie, a tortoise, who has a “hard shell and is not for turning”.

Sir Lindsay is never dull in the chair, either.

He has a sunny, cheerful personality in and out of the Commons chamber. But when he’s firm with troublemakers or windbags in the chamber, he’s tough and doesn’t take any nonsense.

One of his finest hours was George Osborne’s Budget in 2013, when as chairman of ways and means, the senior deputy Speaker’s official title, he was in the chair.

He stole the show by bellowing in his flat Lancashire vowels such gems as: “Let this not become the circus of the day” and “the panto season is not for another nine months”.

Probably his most heated clash with an MP – so far – came with the Scottish National Party’s Alex Salmond in a Brexit debate in 2017, when the former Scottish first minister accused him of cutting off his fellow SNP MP Joanna Cherry.

Mr Hoyle hit back: “As the chair I have the right to make decisions on this House.

“What I would say is quite rightly when I wanted to bring her in, which I did… I certainly don’t expect advantages to be taken of the chair on the agreements that I make.”

But Sir Lindsay, son of the former MP and Labour peer Doug Hoyle, has a lighter side too.

And his style, largely because of his strong Lancashire accent, has often been compared to that of a bingo caller or northern club comedian.

Last month, presiding over the ballot for private members’ bills, Sir Lindsay sent himself up with gusto.

Telling the Commons clerk to “shake them up!” as she pulled numbered balls out of a drum, he announced: “All the fours, 44… all the threes, 33.”

But it got better as he declared: “Boris’s den, number 10,” and then, announcing first place in the ballot, he concluded: “And the winner of the 2019 ballot is… tension, drum roll… 209.”

But behind the fun and the smiles, Sir Lindsay has faced heartbreaking personal tragedy in the past couple of years.

In December 2017, his daughter Natalie was found hanged in her bedroom. She was 28 and had been in what was described at her inquest as a “toxic relationship”.

He told The Sunday Times in his eve-of-election interview: “It’s still difficult. I still can’t come to terms with it.

“My grandchildren have lost an auntie, my other daughter has lost a sister, we’ve lost a daughter and it’s affected us in ways I’ve never expected.

“It’s coming up to that anniversary, so it’s the hardest thing; it makes life very difficult.”

That anniversary comes during the month of the pre-Christmas general election, when Sir Lindsay will defend his Chorley seat, not as a Labour candidate this time, as he has since he won it in 1997, but as Speaker.

It’s a constituency that voted 57% to 43% for Leave in the 2016 referendum and Sir Lindsay has never revealed how he voted.

Strictly impartial, unlike Mr Bercow, who admitted he voted Remain and was seen as deeply partisan and anti-Brexit.

Officially, Sir Lindsay will have to seek re-election at the start of the new parliament after the general election.

But in reality that’s a formality.

He is popular on all sides of the House, as his victory in the election for Speaker has demonstrated.

There will be fewer references to Arsenal and Roger Federer from the chair in future.

But MPs had better get used to hearing about rugby league, Bolton Wanderers and Lancashire CCC.