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British MPs vote on new speaker after Bercow's departure

Seven MPs have put themselves forward to replace John Bercow, whose shouts of 'Order! Order!' have rung out across the House of Commons since June 2009.

FILE: A video grab from footage broadcast by the UK Parliament's Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) shows Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow announcing to MP's that he would step down from his role on 9 September 2019 in London. Picture: AFP.

LONDON - British MPs began the selection of their new speaker on Monday to replace John Bercow, who enraged the government but won a global following with his parliamentary rulings on Brexit.

Seven MPs have put themselves forward to replace Bercow, whose shouts of "Order! Order!" have rung out across the House of Commons since June 2009.

Lindsay Hoyle, Bercow's deputy since 2010, is the odds-on favourite to fill his shoes -- and won the first round of Monday's voting by a wide margin -- but other political heavyweights are also still vying for the job.

After Prime Minister Boris Johnson opened the process on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II, each candidate gave a short pitch before a series of secret ballots began.

Two were eliminated in the first round but voting will continue until a winner secures more than half of votes, and can take their seat in the speaker's raised green chair.

But he or she will not have too long to get comfortable as parliament will be dissolved late Tuesday for the December 12 election, after which they will return.

The winning candidate is expected to give up party affiliation and traditionally does not contest general elections.

KEY BREXIT PLAYER

Choosing a new speaker has been an unremarkable event in the past, but Bercow became a key player in the chaotic process of Britain's exit from the European Union.

With the Commons divided over how, when and even if Brexit should happen, he oversaw more than three years of crucial debates that defined the course of Brexit.

His supporters say he has empowered ordinary MPs by granting time for emergency debates and amendments, which had the effect of pressuring or even tying ministers' hands.

But critics accused him of subverting centuries of parliamentary tradition with the aim of frustrating Brexit.

Bercow, who was a Conservative MP before he took on the politically neutral role of speaker, has also been accused of failing to tackle a culture of bullying.

Last week, Johnson paid guarded tribute, likening Bercow's glare to a "trademark Tony Montana scowl", after Al Pacino's character in the 1983 film "Scarface".

Opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn praised his modernising reforms, which included increasing staff diversity, boosting public access to parliament and switching from traditional robes to suits.

But it was his colourful personality and eccentric performances in parliament that gave him an international profile.

A social media mash-up by German television of footage of Bercow calming rowdy MPs has been seen more than a million times. A Belgian newspaper called him "irreplaceable".

If Johnson succeeds in his goal of winning a majority in the December election -- as opinion polls suggest -- the next speaker's job could be fairly straightforward as chair of debates.

But if he fails and there is another minority government, the new arrival will have to arbitrate between yet another group of divided MPs.

PROMOTION

The clear winner in the first round was Hoyle, with 211 out of 562 ballots cast.

He has been a Labour MP for 22 years and was Bercow's deputy from 2010, since when his distinctive Lancashire accent has rung out from the speaker's chair.

The 62-year-old is as unimpressed as his predecessor by the shouting and braying from MPs, once chastising Scottish Nationalists for humming the EU anthem "Ode to Joy" in the chamber.

Hoyle pledged in an interview published in the Sunday Times -- in which he introduced his parrot "Boris" -- to repair what he claims has become a "toxic parliament".

"I don't want the abuse of each other and I think we have got to close that down quickly and make sure it is a calmer place to be," he said.

Bercow's number two deputy, Eleanor Laing, was in second place with 113 votes.

The 61-year-old Conservative entered parliament in 1997 and previously served as the party's spokeswoman on Scotland.

They were followed by former Church of England vicar and now Labour MP Chris Bryant, Labour MP Harriet Harman, parliament's longest-serving female MP, and another deputy speaker, Labour's Rosie Winterton.

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