Falling Short


The office of Speaker of the House of Commons is notable for its impartiality. One of the longstanding attributes of the office is that it stands above politics. The way the role has always functioned is for the Speaker to cast off his connections to his party so that he can take a truly impartial stance towards the issues of the day. All around the world there is a desire to emulate the role of Speaker especially in regards to its impartiality.  That is until Bercow came along. Bercow brings with him a certain type of baggage. Renowned as being too arrogant for his office, Bercow’s own personal partialities keep coming to the fore.

He voted Remain and is a staunch Remainer. In his choices of amendments and speakers he allows this pro Remain bias to shine through. The latest controversy he has got himself into is the so called poppadom plot in which he was seen dining with Arch Remainer Kenneth Clarke. Witnesses overheard him asking, in the context of Brexit, “Where do we go from here?” Clarke was heard to answer that he was having a meeting with Hillary Benn, the Chair of the Brexit group later in the week.

A spokesperson for the Speaker said it was usual for him to socialise with friends across the House and they would not comment on private conversations. This does nothing to dispel suspicions that there was more to the meeting than met the eye. In the end the suspicions tend to a plot to undermine democracy in favour of Remain. It is hard to think of a time when a previous speaker had brought as much suspicion on him or herself as Bercow has.

It is hard to think what can be done about Bercow. As Speaker he is appointed not by the Government but by the whole House. This makes him difficult to get rid of. He has a lot of support amongst Remainer Tories and Labour MPs who see him as an ally. Margaret Becket, another Arch Remainer, says that his usefulness trumps the bad behaviour illustrated by the bullying allegations made against him. The Government, then, is in a bit of a fix. With no obvious way to get rid of him they have to put up with a man who wields a considerable amount of power and is prepared to wield it in ways that are outwith the rules of the office that he holds.

There appears to be no end to the lengths Bercow is prepared to go to extend his role in order to achieve the ends that he seeks. He does not feel that he is bound by the conventions of his office or by respect for those who have done the job before him. He is essentially a self-promoter. One gets the feeling that he thinks he is bigger than the office he has taken on. He is like a small dog guarding a large bone. Puffed up with his own self-importance he snaps at anyone who crosses his path. He defends everything he does by claiming he is defending the rights of the back benchers but in truth he is following his own agenda. It comes as no surprise to anyone that he should be caught up in a Remainer plot. Sadly it is just not out of character for the man.

He has already dragged his office into disrepute. The bullying allegations saw to that. He has behaved in a way that is incompatible with the office that he holds. The House deserves a better Speaker than it has got. The House deserves an impartial Speaker who stands up for the Parliamentary process above all. The House deserves a Betty Boothroyd and what it has got is a John Bercow. No one is seen in a very good light due to this Speaker. Those who support him are just considering their own short term interests. Those who oppose him look powerless in the face of his latest shenanigans.

In the end a bad Speaker is bad for democracy. By undermining the conventions that are in place to delimit his powers Bercow is undermining democracy itself. It is time that he left the job and was replaced by someone who can respect the conventions it is based upon. Until he has gone we will have to put up with second best. A real shame.