John Bercow

Some contributors to this site and other Conservatives I spoke to over the week-end have spoken out strongly against John Bercow. BBC journalists are using vivid language to describe Conservative attitudes to John in their commentaries on the Speakership from their sources.

I respect John’s skills as a Parliamentarian. He has the best memory of any MP, which he can use to recall the exact words of quotes, dates and other facts that can be important to the debate. He has been on an unusual political journey, from Monday Club to acting as an adviser to the Labour government. I have sympathy for his views on children with speech difficulties and think he has done good work on that matter. His own personal family story should evoke sympathy, not dislike.

The new Speaker should heed the wise words of advice from David Cameron. The House needs to see not merely that he has put behind him the views and loyalties he held some years ago, but now he is Speaker he has to also discard his more recent views and friendships to demonstrate impartiality.

He needs to show that his message of change is change for a purpose. The purpose should be to rebuild Parliament as the leader of national debate, the means to hold government to account, and the way to ensure proper representation of minority opinion. His decisions need to show he wants a stronger Parliament, able to hold truth to power, and capable of requiring accountable Ministers to take the place seriously and to tell us first.

It should have been no surprise that he got the job. It is , as I keep reminding my readers, a House with a large Labour majority. Labour decided to remove the old Speaker, and Labour were always in a position to choose the new one. Yesterday Labour decided to behave tribally and to elect the candidate many Conservatives did not want.

Conservatives now have to accept the result, and show respect to our new Speaker. We all need this to work. The Opposition should not prejudge this Speaker. He should be judged on how well he does at allowing Parliament to have more teeth and to hold a more central role in public debate.

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42 Comments

  1. ken from glos
    Posted June 23, 2009 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    Words fail me. Let me remind you that he flipped houses and dodged capital gains tax whuch us mere mortals have to pay!

    (unflattering description removed-ed).

  2. Sue
    Posted June 23, 2009 at 6:39 am | Permalink

    This whole fiasco was a joke. Labour picked him purely to antagonise the Tories. That is NOT the way honourable MP’s behave, but then again, most of them are not honourable! I am furious with the government. The person picked for speaker should have been beyond reproach, that’s what WE expect!

  3. Donna W
    Posted June 23, 2009 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    The first Act of the new Speaker should be to change the Rules of Parliament so that the people – the electorate – choose the Speaker in future.

    If the people had been able to choose this time, it certainly wouldn’t be Bercow in the Chair!

    The Speaker should be in the House to represent US – not the vested interests of Parliamentarians or any one political party. It won’t happen of course – because MPs still don’t get it. We are disgusted by their behaviour and we certainly don’t trust them; with very good reason.

    Carrying on the way before with a Labour stooge as Speaker won’t instill any trust.

    • jean baker
      Posted June 23, 2009 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

      “we are disgusted by their behaviour …. we certainly don’t trust them” – speak for yourself !

      The (reported) impropriety within the fees office is disgusting, i.e. authorizing ‘disallowable’ expenses’. It is disgusting that the staff responsible have not been held accountable. Then again, the ‘leakers, media spinners and manipulators’ never are.

  4. APL
    Posted June 23, 2009 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    Look on the bright side, there is one less socialist on the Tory benches.

  5. Richard
    Posted June 23, 2009 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    I thought it was a shameful and pathetic display of student union manoeuvering and class prejudice. Politics with all the subtlety of Kevin Maguire. The labour Party deserve everything that is coming to them from the electorate. This parliament is a disgrace. I have rarely felt so disillusioned.

  6. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted June 23, 2009 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    The House of Commons at its best? I fear not, but yet again at its very tribal worst.

  7. alan jutson
    Posted June 23, 2009 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    Well at least we did not get Margaret Beckett !!!!!

    No idea if John Bercow will be his own man, what you have to be mindful of is the Gordon Brown dodge of yesteryear.

    Act in a very conservative (not political terminology) manner in his first term (in his case the first 12 months), so that people tend to trust you, then turn to type for the next five years.

    Let us hope that the new Speaker does as he says, and puts all past political thoughts to one side, for the benefit of Parliament and the Country.

    Only time will tell.

  8. Brigham
    Posted June 23, 2009 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    When I read your piece on Bercow, the phrase “damning with faint praise.” sprang to mind. If Widdecombe had been elected, the speaker proper, would have been elected after the general election, and the tories would have had the majority and got the person they really wanted. What really should happen, in my opinion, the Speaker should not be a member of Parliament at all. The public should elect the Speaker. Somebody tough enough to keep the MPs in order, and to sort out the antiquated functions of the Fees Office and the Priviledges committee. How about Paxman?!!

    • adam
      Posted June 23, 2009 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

      Paxman barks loudly but has no bite.

  9. wonderfulforhisage
    Posted June 23, 2009 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    Mr R. you write: “He has the best memory of any MP, which he can use to recall the exact words of quotes, dates and other facts that can be important to the debate.”

    I read a report that yesterday in the Commons he was reading from notes held by a colleague. So much for his memory. One wonders why he wasn’t holding them himself. I hope he wasn’t trying to deceive.

    • alan jutson
      Posted June 23, 2009 at 10:19 am | Permalink

      Yes he may have forgot to pay Capital gains tax as well.
      Or in his words could not remember if he had or not having flipped (according to the Press) !!!!!

      I have to say that having seen the TV coverage of the event I was taken by the quality of the speeches of most candidates. George Young very good. others very patriotic about the Parliamentary System.

      Just shows what Parliament has been misssing for the past 12 years, with no time for proper debates.

      Interesting that many candidates mentioned disclosure of policies to the media before Parliament, and bills/laws being passed without proper debate or investigation, with Parliament not being able to call the government to account, as their big aim to reverse.

  10. wonderfulforhisage
    Posted June 23, 2009 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    Not really for publication but your blog’s time is running an hour behind the times – probably GMT.

  11. Beancounter from Macc
    Posted June 23, 2009 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    While not for one moment condoning “house flipping” by MPs it should be pointed out that, subject to certain conditions, tax law gives the option to anyone who owns and lives in more than one house to change the one nomiated as principal residence. So in this respect MPs are treated no differently from anyone else for tax purposes.

    • APL
      Posted June 23, 2009 at 11:09 am | Permalink

      Beancounter from Macc: “So in this respect MPs are treated no differently from anyone else for tax purposes.”

      I guess it is a matter of what is Parliament for?

      Is is a rather select club where you go to get rich at the tax paying public expense.

      Or

      Is it a forum where the representitives of the people … represent the people?

      In short, do Parliamentarians serve the country or service the country?

  12. jean baker
    Posted June 23, 2009 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    John,

    Thank you, well said.

    Only time will tell as to whether Parliament (and democracy) actually benefits from Labour’s change of Speaker – I doubt it.
    Many believe John Berscow’s appointment was preordained.

    Sir Ian Blair’s ‘trial by media’ and (to my mind) untimely and unjustified sacking was swiftly followed by, as some journalists described, an unprecedented ‘Zanulabor’ style police raid on Damien Green’s parliamentary office. The raid on his home reportedly caused terror to his family. It was later reported that the ‘officer in charge’ was given Sir Ian’s job.

    The means by which Labour ‘deals with’ any form of opposition is increasingly unpalatable to decent, law abiding citizens. Mr Martin was subjected to ‘trial by media’ …….

  13. A. Sedgwick
    Posted June 23, 2009 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    You totally miss the point, JB may have an intellect comparable with Einstein but his selection is a political stitch up, which has caused all the furore over the integrity of Parliament. This appointment needed to show a genuinely free vote, not the usual manoeuvring, political tactics and clandestine whippery. It is a indictment on the Commons that Frank Field did not even make the ten “finalists”. Roll on PR, the dominance of the two parties has to my mind proved conclusively anti democratic with the will of the people subjugated to the preservation of the current party system.

  14. oldtimer
    Posted June 23, 2009 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    No doubt, as you put it, “We all need this to work” within the context of the immediate business of the HoC.

    Outside, it is a different matter. We are outraged by the expenses scandal and Mr Bercow has been one of the worst offenders. Electing him as Speaker is a slap in the face of the electorate. My remaining hope is that an Independent candidate stands against him at the general election and the voters of Buckingham eject Mr Bercow from office.

  15. Mick Anderson
    Posted June 23, 2009 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    A Speaker voted for by MPs for the benefit of MPs.

    I will concede that the Speaker only has limited powers of reform, but someone who is not already familiar to the Electorate is going to have to work far harder to show that the institution is heading for reform.

    No matter how well John Bercows constituants know him, most of the country had never heard of him until recently. As such, he will have to earn our trust, and that’s not going to be easy for him.

  16. Elizabeth
    Posted June 23, 2009 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    I am delighted that John Bercow became Speaker although would have been happy too with with the runner up. I am astonished at how nasty some of your colleagues have been in assassination of his character so far as writing an article for the Sunday papers. I am also perturbed at reports of a wish to remove him from the role at the next election. So those MPs do not consider how the public would view them even before the man has been tested in the role? Very childish antics from adults.

    The Speaker is an important job which has been weakened by the abilities of the previous Speaker. I am glad you wished the new incumbent well – it is what I would have expected from you regardless of your personal feelings. I am reminded by commentators this morning that Betty Boothroyd had a shaky start and look how well she developed in the role. I hope JB is also given time to settle and his detractors do not seek to undermine him.

  17. Andy
    Posted June 23, 2009 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    It does, however, demonstrate the utter contempt in which this Labour party holds the electorate.

    To elect a speaker in order to cause discomfort or embarrassment to the Tories is no reason on which to base their decision.

    They should have taken this opportunity to show they have learned from recent issues and acted in the interests of the country.

    Shameful behaviour.

    That said, I trust the new Speaker will be effective and non partisan.

  18. Matt
    Posted June 23, 2009 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    I thought that the idea was to elect a speaker with broad support from all parties.

    I doubt if Mr Bercow is popular amongst labour MP’s they’ve just voted for him to upset the Tories.

    What was served by ditching Michael Martin? May as well have kept him on.

    The episode just further illustrates that there is a need for a general election.

    Not least because the issue of spending cuts needs addressing – before the big interest bills arrive.

    • Posted June 24, 2009 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

      At least one can understand what Bercow is saying when he speaks..or should I say ‘squeaks’.

      I don’t know for whom you voted John, and you won’t tell us, but the choice of Bercow was one in which every MP can hang his/her head in shame.

      Not one of you guys get it, do you?

  19. Blank Xavier
    Posted June 23, 2009 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    Perhaps the Speaker should never be of the majority party.

  20. sm
    Posted June 23, 2009 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    Apparently, comes with a nice pension based on appointment.
    No doubt changing the terms of office was too much like hard work for the current parliament

    I’m afraid John your 10% savings are like but a drop in the ocean.

    It confirms my opinion of the current house.

    Perhaps a new rate of tax on all public pensions not based on length of service or comparable terms to a normal civil servant in the much less generous PCSPS scheme, the one covering most employees (not the Senior Scheme).

  21. jon
    Posted June 23, 2009 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    John Bercow is confusing to me not least having been a member of the Monday Club and a Jew, just seems an odd mix.

    Whilst I don’t know or understand him it doesn’t look all bad news for the Tory’s. He is a good communicator vital in that role, something Martin failed at.

    It could very well turn out that the public are not happy with the eventual reforms that the Speaker has control over. He is not closely aligned to the Tory’s so they maybe able to deflect some of that flak. Just my view that the reforms won’t meet with public expectation.

  22. jon
    Posted June 23, 2009 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    There is one reform I would like to see. There is a likelyhood they will change the salary to a higher one. It is how that salary is reviewed going forward that concerns me.

    From memory there is a stat going round that says that higher earners used to earn about 15 times the average salary, that has now risen to 75 times. Should the MP salary review be based on otehr higher earners then it could soon balloon to something the public won’t connect with.

    I would like to see a review that is based on national average salary. Should the MP salary be say 3 times the national average then thats what it remains at going forward. If the average worker sees a rise then so will the MP’s, if it remains stagnant then that will perhaps focus the minds of MP’s.

  23. Chris
    Posted June 23, 2009 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    I think John is right – Conservatives have to keep their views on Bercow to themselves now and get on with trying to restore some public confidence in Parliament. Bercow is obviously able and will probably be better than Martin in the chair (how could he be worse?) I think it’s true that Labour MPs voted for him primarily to annoy the other side which reflects badly on them – and the fact that such a large number of Tory MPs are horrified at his selection shows that he can never be the universally respected figure that the country needs as Speaker. It’s done now though – so time to make the best of it.

  24. Simon Denis
    Posted June 23, 2009 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    I was also disappointed to hear that Bercow had got the job. However, the deed is done and we must – for the present, at least – live with it. This means that the new Speaker is on probation, which also means that – yes – we must give the man a chance. That chance, however, may not be taken. I have serious misgivings as to the Speaker’s character. He is too like LLoyd George’s Lord Derby, bearing the impress of the last person to have sat on him. Therefore, it would not be much amiss if some contigency plan to displace him were swiftly and quietly established.

  25. Tim
    Posted June 23, 2009 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    I am not a Conservative, but I thought your views expressed in the blog were correct. The Fourth Estate has launched a sustained attack on our democratic institutions, not helped by the foolish actions of a significant number of MPs, and the failure of any party leader to defend the work of MPs.

    My concern is that the Press will now want to encourage a situation where the Speaker is removed again we are already seeing this in the media. I have no doubt it would have occured regardless of candidate selected.

    People need to be reminded that they elect the MPs, and the MPs elect the Speaker. This is the way of our democracy.

    Parliament must now set about strengthening its independance from Government, hold the Government to account. The new Speaker must work to improve the standing of Parliament in the eyes of the public.

    Sadly this only partially solves my problem. How much do journalists earn?, Who chastises journalists on inaccurate reporting?, How much do the editors earn? As for the Daily Telegraph I wonder about the owner’s regard for democracy.

    All of this time we have had MPs running around with their backsides on fire, who has been running the country?

    • SJB
      Posted June 25, 2009 at 10:18 am | Permalink

      The Civil Service run the country, Tim.

  26. mart
    Posted June 23, 2009 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    He’s articulate, and intelligent. He does not toe a party line. In short, a very sound choice as Speaker for the whole commons.

    On the subject of Labour votes, why should they not vote how they choose? I bet practically no-one on the Conservative benches voted for a Labour candiate. Tribal? Yes. Fair enough? Yes.

    • Mike Clarke
      Posted June 23, 2009 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

      Balls was very prominent in his support for Bercow. Balls is Brown’s creature. QED!

  27. Posted June 23, 2009 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    Only Elizabeth above seems to be pleased with the Commons’ decision. The rest, pretty well, see it as a stitch up.
    There have been, in history, lots of strange, tiny people who have proved to be excellent leaders. Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, little Napoleon and Bernie Ecclestone come to mind, so me, I’m not judging.
    Time, like an ever rolling stream, will no doubt judge better than any of us.

    PS: Guess who voted for Blair and got Brown? Could it have been -
    us? – the electorate?

  28. jon
    Posted June 23, 2009 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    I now undertand John Bercow is very ambitious, wanting this job for years.

    Could the following be described of Bercow?

    “To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”
    -Sun Tzu, the Art of War

  29. jon
    Posted June 23, 2009 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    If that is the case, a Sun Tzu exponent then I really don’t see him backing a dead horse like Brown if he wants 2 terms in the chair and a peerage after. The Crowns courtier might soon be courting the Tory MP’s again.

  30. Chuck Unsworth
    Posted June 23, 2009 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    Well the question is: does he have enough courage to rule with complete impartiality?

    I doubt it.

  31. Matthew Reynolds
    Posted June 23, 2009 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

    Well done John ! As ever a fair minded and logical piece of blogging from you. Mr Bercow will no doubt try his best and I doubt that he will be a biased Brown backing stooge. He knows that if he is then the Tory majority after the next general election will make a new Speaker its first aim. Therefore the newly elected Speaker will I am certain try to change things for the better and will work with the Party Leaders to bring this about – knowing that if he does not try to be unbiased then Cameron’s troops will act swiftly after the next general election.

    I expect the Conservative bile against Bercow cemented the Labour desire to spite the Tories by electing Bercow as Speaker. As Theresa May might have said :’ Being the Nasty Party will not work.’

    Bercow was a Cameron Conservative before the term was invented and as such was a man of vision. He is an instinctive reformer by securing consensus – he proved that by helping Brown with work over children’s policy. If he applies that logic by reaching out to the Conservatives by trying to strengthen &cleanse Parliament in the way that Mr Cameron wants then this Speakership can be a success.

    For the sake of our system of government let us hope that Speaker Bercow can be a change maker in Parliament……

  32. Posted June 24, 2009 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    John, as usual thoughtful, informed and fair. Thank you.

    If Bercow can make Brown answer questions properly and truthfully and not ask his own, he will change the terms of political debate for the better, and improve governance. If not Cameron should ensure that we get a new speaker in due course.

  33. Posted June 24, 2009 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    So the man with seemingly few principles or deeply held convictions was elected. The man who changed his core beliefs and politics to suit his ambitions. How can someone change from being ultra right wing to ultra liberal overnight? What he calls his moment of ‘enlightenment’ or his political journey. Did he have Damascus Road experience? I don’t think so, more like the minute he realised he would have to court New Labour and Lib Dems. MPs favour, to achieve his ambition of becoming Speaker of the House. It is then he must have decided to do whatever it took to achieve his goal. Even if it meant being disloyal to his own party and its leaders and ‘greasing up’ to the opposition at every opportunity. In other words he was prepared to sell his soul for the ‘pot of gold’ he yearned for. Close observers of John Bercow knew this; especially his Tory colleagues. No wonder they had such solemn faces when the result was announced. Only when prompted by David Cameron did a few Tory MPs give a slow and weak hand-clap, the rest decided to keep their arms crossed or hands firmly on their laps. One Tory MP shouted, ‘Not in my name!’ As the labour benches enjoyed their moment of childish spite with their smiling faces knowing they had left their final lasting legacy, by achieving something with their ‘bloc vote’, that would hurt David Cameron and the Conservative Party when they get into power, long after this New Labour Government sinks beneath the waves; in their rotten and stinking ship.

    Knowing John Bercow’s liberal views on abortion and hearing about his ridiculous amendment that he tabled for the third reading of the Embryology Bill last year, (which wasn’t heard in the end, due to a government guillotine on the bill) reflected his new ultra liberal views on moral issues. I therefore fear for the protection of unborn children in the UK; when the emotive issue is next debated in the House. I and many others will be watching for his promised fairness and impartiality on such issues. How will he stop himself from ridiculing people who disagree with him? Will he continue to use his old method of shutting down the debate, by personally attacking his opponents to undermine them? I and many others will be watching him very closely on important debates; especially on moral issues.

  34. Bazman
    Posted June 26, 2009 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Looks like he Plays for the opposition to me.

  35. Posted June 28, 2009 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    The Sunday Telegraph 28.06.2009 reveals more details of John Bercow’s £40,000 private income. Page 7 Quote by Patrick Sawer & Melissa Kite: ‘The new Commons Speaker was accused last night of profiting from his work as a government adviser on special educational needs. John Bercow was paid £40,000 by a health care firm which hired him after he wrote a report that led to a £52 million increase in special needs funding. The MP worked for six months for the Priory Group, which runs a number of special needs schools, giving advice about children who suffer from speech and language difficulties. He attended around five board meetings before he resigned from the post on becoming Speaker last week The payments declared by Mr Bercow in the Register of Members’ Interests will now raise questions about the propriety of MPs taking money from firms working in an area in which they have dealt directly in Parliament.
    Tory opponents of Mr Berocow, who was voted in as Michael Martin’s replacement despite little support from his own party, said the disclosures cast fresh doubts on his suitability as Speaker. ” This calls into question his judgement. He appears to have profited from his work as Brown’s adviser”, said one MP.
    Mr Bercow, once a member of the right-wing Monday Club but now on the left of his party, has also been criticised for “flipping” the designation of his second home, enabling him to avoid paying capital gains tax.’ Unquote.

2 Trackbacks

  1. [...] John Redwood also urges a measure of reconciliation in his blog this morning: Conservatives now have to accept the result, and show respect to our new Speaker. We all need this to work. The Opposition should not prejudge this Speaker. He should be judged on how well he does at allowing Parliament to have more teeth and to hold a more central role in public debate. [...]

  2. [...] Redwood gets it right on his blog this morning: "Conservatives now have to accept the result, and show respect to our new [...]

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    John Redwood has been the Member of Parliament for Wokingham since 1987. First attending Kent College, Canterbury, he graduated from Magdalen College, and has a DPhil from All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.
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