Although enjoying a majority the Liberal government of Lord Rosebery had found it difficult to secure a suitable candidate, the one person who wanted the job, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, the Secretary of State for War, was deemed to be too important to cabinet unity to be allowed to stand. While the Liberals searched for a suitable candidate, the Conservatives decided to put forward their own nominee Sir Matthew White Ridley. The cabinet only decided on Gully, an MP since 1886 but largely unknown, four days before the incumbent Speaker was due to retire. With two candidates in the field there was the first contested election for the post since 1839. Although Ridley started as favourite, the Conservative leader in the Commons Arthur Balfour not for the first time misjudged the mood of the House by launching a personal attack on Gully and on Liberal partisanship. In response Sir William Harcourt rallied the Liberals and Gully was elected by 11 votes.