Speakers are not what they used to be. Prior to the early decades of the 19th Century, they could be partisan and, indeed, carry on as MPs after ceasing to be Speaker. (Indeed, some went on to be Prime Minister.) Some were far from pleasant and some were not afraid to express their opinions on issues before the House.
I have mentioned that one of the Speakers voted out of office was Sir Fletcher Norton in 1780. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about him was not that he was voted out as Speaker but that he was ever elected in the first place. Philip Laundy, in his book The Office of Speaker, wrote of him:
“He was coarse and unrefined, possessed of a violent temper and offensive in his use of language. Tact and discretion were alien to him, but he was bold and shrewd, and during his tenure of office he demonstrated that he was nobody’s lackey. He had been in office less than a month when he found himself at the centre of a heated and undignified wrangle over some words he had used. Since nothing could induce the Speaker to apologise or acknowledge any error, the matter was debated for some six hours before a way was found of disposing of it.”
He became fiercely critical of government and, more importantly, of the King, on one occasion addressing His Majesty “with an extraordinary outspokenness”. He even supported John Dunning’s motion “that the influence of the Crown has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished.” He was voted out of office at the start of the next Parliament, the House electing Wolfran Cornwall by 203 votes to 134.
I hasten to add that he is no relation.