The House of Commons elected a new speaker Monday after the previous holder became the first to be forced out in 300 years amid an expenses scandal that has rocked British politics.
John Bercow, a member of the main opposition Conservative party, was elected by a majority of 51 to be the lower house of parliament's public face, a position with a 600-year history rich in tradition and pageantry.
Bercow, 46, beat fellow Conservative lawmaker Sir George Young by 322 votes to 271 in the third round of a secret ballot, and immediately took to the speaker's chair promising a new start.
His predecessor, Michael Martin, last month was the first speaker forced to step down since 1695 as a scandal erupted over lawmakers' lavish expenses, provoking widespread public anger and demands for parliamentary reform.
When Bercow put his case for the job earlier in the day, he had described himself as the "clean-break" candidate, who was ready to bring about change.
He warned that parliament must reform if it wants to be taken seriously after revelations that members of parliament had claimed taxpayers' money to furnish second homes with everything from plasma televisions to a duck island.
"Unless and until we can move the debate on from sleaze and second homes to the future of this house, we shall remain in deep trouble. A legislature cannot be effective while suffering from public scorn," Bercow said.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown welcomed Bercow's election, which must now be officially confirmed by the queen, saying that "undoubtedly the road ahead will not be easy" but the Commons was on the "path to renewal".
"You will bring a strength of character and purpose to this house," Brown said.
Conservative leader David Cameron also congratulated his colleague, saying: "We share a collective responsibility for what went wrong, we share a collective responsibility for putting it right."
The job of speaker involves chairing debates in the House of Commons, selecting who can speak and curbing the famously rowdy behaviour of MPs, but it will now be crucial in the fight to move past the expenses row.
Bercow himself was embroiled in the expenses row, coming under fire for allegedly changing the designation of his London and constituency homes to avoid paying thousands of pounds in taxes.
He promised to pay back 6,500 pounds to HM Revenue and Customs after admitting he had not paid sales tax when he sold his previous constituency and London homes in 2003.
However, he insisted he had done nothing wrong and repaid the money "voluntarily".
Ten MPs including former foreign secretary Margaret Beckett, had stood for the job of speaker, but they were either eliminated or dropped out in the first two rounds, leaving Bercow and Young to fight it out.
Beckett, 66, was the frontrunner but pulled out after the second ballot after receiving just 70 votes. Critics said she was too close to the current Labour government to play the neutral role required as speaker.
Bercow will now renounce his party membership and promised after taking the chair to be "completely impartial".
He had divided his own Conservative party because of his perceived sympathy to the ruling Labour Party, from whom he won wide support.
Bercow thanked MPs for bestowing upon him "the greatest honour that I have enjoyed in my professional life".
He added: "I continue to believe the vast majority of members of this House are upright, decent, honourable people who have come into politics not to feather their nests but because they have heeded the call of public service."
Source: AFP European Edition