It has defeated 2 Prime Ministers, cultivated a culture of division and mistrust, stymied the Mother of Parliaments, and now, Brexit has claimed its latest casualty: Speaker of the Commons, John Bercow. The halls of Westminster will never again reverberate with the roars of this particularly unique speaker, who has brought a fresh controversy to the role, dwarfing that seen with Michael Martin and his expenses scandal in 2009.
I have enjoyed most of Bercow’s tenure as Speaker. “Incorrigible”, “delinquent” and “be a good boy” are notable soundbites that spring to mind and take me aback to that rose-tinted era of ambivalent bromance between Cameron, Miliband and Clegg; Where the main topic of discussion of the country was whether a certain pig’s head was used by a certain Prime Minister in his youth.
However, recently he has tarnished the position he holds with esteem. In A.V Dicey’s ‘Law of the Constitution’ it states that “the Speaker who presides over the debates of the House, though elected by party...must try to be the representative and guide of the whole House...maintaining an impartial character”. As a Brexiteer, I find Bercow’s behaviour over the last year to be directly against the informal constitutional role he himself reveres. He insists he is not against Brexit, but when the SNP, Liberal Democrats, and the ‘Motely Crue’ of anti-democratic MPs such as Caroline Lucas, David Lammy and Mary Creagh applaud at his actions in the House, you have to at least raise an eyebrow. The selection of various indicative votes in late March this year by Bercow just adds credence to the view that Bercow is a Brexit-bashing bully boy: 2 out of the 8 votes selected were advocating for leaving both Customs Union and Single Market, and only 3 were introduced by Brexit-supporting MPs. Later in early April, 4 more indicative votes were selected by Bercow: This time all 4 were introduced by Remain-supporting MPs and all 4 advocated, in some form, the UK straddling the Channel with one foot in Blighty and the other sinking into the Brussels paté like a pig in the sea.
Breaking with convention is therefore Bercow’s forte: When you have to reference a parliamentary convention last used in 1604 to prevent a bill introduced by Brexit-supporting MPs you have to scoff. This isn’t a recent trend for Bercow. The eternal wisdom of everyone’s favourite sitcom grandmother, Ann Widdecombe spoke to say there was “something of the night” about Bercow, after he openly criticised his party’s standing on major issues in 2005: Taxes, immigration and the Iraq War. In 2007, there was even rumours that he could defect to the Labour Party. A Speaker can be allowed to hold political views, but when they become so openly expressed in such a position of power (for example, Bercow’s comments on Donald Trump’s state visit) it brings the position into disrepute, and unfortunately Bercow’s time in the chair has soured and its authority been chipped away.
Aside from politics, the cloud of bullying allegations also hovers above Bercow’s head. Following allegations of phone-throwing, intimidation, verbal slurs and raging outbursts, there was a cross-party encouragement for Bercow to resign as Speaker. However, some MPs defended him and argued he should stay. Who were these MPs? Again, hard Remainers who wanted to reverse the 2016 referendum. Moreover, he referred to Andrea Leadsom, his albatross in the Chamber as a ‘stupid’ and ‘f*cking useless’ woman. I’m not going to, as many would, play the sexism card in this instance, but will simply note that this is a complete failure of the Speaker to retain good working relations with the Leader of the House, without which would lead to legislative disarray.
And now Bercow has finally resigned. He promised to resign in 2018, and then ‘after Brexit’ (if anyone know when that is exactly, I’ll buy you a McDonald’s). He clearly has an agenda which has, in my eyes turned what had been an entertaining and respectful tenure as Speaker into a menagerie of political mud-slinging and partiality.
On a personal level, the only nuggets of knowledge about Bercow I know, was that he was a stylish tennis player against my uncle. A fact that my grandmother is never shy about banging out at any family dinner event.
But the departure of wee Jimmy Bercow from his position also raises another question, introduced to me recently by a reader of my articles (yes, these people exist, and no, they aren’t (all) my parents). This reader criticises the role of Speaker as failing to represent their own constituents and instead, supposedly remaining neutral in almost all cases. This is certainly an issue for the next speaker, whomever it is to address. My money’s on Harriet Harman, but would prefer to see Sir Lindsay Hoyle in the seat. Either way, they are reformers and hopefully this democratic deficit can be remedied.
Although Brexit broke Bercow, he has, for right or for wrong, been a hugely significant figure in Westminster and his departure will surely be both reviled and relished from across the House and country at large.
Image: ©UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor