Conservative deputy Speaker hopefuls pitch for Labour votes
Conservative candidates to be the new deputy to Commons Speaker John Bercow have set out their stalls in a hustings with Labour MPs.
There has been a vacancy on Mr Bercow's team since Nigel Evans stood down to fight sex offence charges.
As a Conservative, Mr Evans can only be replaced by another governing-party MP under Commons rules - although no Lib Dems are known to be applying.
Deputy Speakers are elected by their fellow MPs in a secret ballot.
The official process for nominating candidates does not begin until 10:00 BST on Tuesday, but seven Conservatives are understood to be mounting a campaign: David Amess, Henry Bellingham, Brian Binley, Simon Burns, Nadine Dorries, Eleanor Laing and Gary Streeter.
Each has a contingent of Conservative supporters, reports BBC parliamentary correspondent Mark D'Arcy, so the result will be determined by the candidates' ability to attract Labour votes.
The meeting with Labour backbenchers was not open to the public or press.
Each of the seven MPs made a short speech to the Labour meeting, before facing questions from the floor.
After the hustings, Ms Dorries tweeted: "Presented to the Parliamentary Labour Party tonight - warm and friendly lot. Glad it's all going to be over in 48 hours!"
In 2009, Ms Dorries described Mr Bercow as "oily" and suggested he was "mistrusted by up to half of the House".
To stand, each of the candidates will need to have secured at least six nominations from fellow MPs by 17:00 BST on Tuesday, and voting takes place between 11.30 BST and 14:00 on Wednesday.
The BBC's parliamentary correspondent Mark D'Arcy said the candidates have been campaigning on their opposition to the MPs' expenses body, IPSA, the impartiality they will bring to chairing debates, and their team-working skills.
Rehearsing her pitch on the BBC's Daily Politics programme, Eleanor Laing said: "I'm passionate about freedom through democracy, about the dignity of the House of Commons, and about its vital, essential role as a forum for national debate.
"I would like to be part of the Speaker's team, not just to keep order in the chamber but to stand up for the rights of the backbenches... against overbearing governments."
Mr Burns told the same programme: "Given my 26 years in the House of Commons, I have the House of Commons in my veins, both as a backbencher, six years on a select committee, as a whip in particular, I've been able to work with colleagues, to understand what makes them tick."
He pledged to be "firm in a light-handed way" as he ensured that MPs were able to hold the government to account and get their points of view across.
Asked whether relations with the Speaker had improved much since he described the Speaker as a "sanctimonious dwarf" in 2010, Mr Burns replied: "We have very little to do with each other except in the chamber, and we will work together professionally if the cards are dealt that way."
Mr Bercow, himself formerly a Conservative MP, has three deputies, and Commons rules dictate that the team of four should be equally drawn from governing-party and opposition MPs.
Two Labour MPs, Lindsay Hoyle and Dawn Primarolo, retain their places on the team.
Ex-deputy Mr Evans has been accused of two counts of indecent assault, five of sexual assault, and one of rape.
He denies the allegations, telling MPs after he stood down as a deputy Speaker in September: "I now have the opportunity to robustly defend my innocence and seek acquittal."