Anthony Hill

Naked Politics Blogger

In March this year the House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow, was the target of a Machiavellian plot by his own party, more fitting to an episode of House of Cards than the House of Commons. It was born of years of dispute between Bercow and leading party figures including David Cameron, who affectionately referred to him as a ‘little s***’. Some Tories are said to have a ‘sincere and venomous animosity’ towards him, but is this disdain understandable or are the Conservative party trying to manipulate the system to put obedient party members in to powerful positions?

Bercow has certainly not been afraid to speak his mind, particularly in the party’s wilderness years. He personally criticised Michael Howard during his leadership, as well as attacking David Cameron during his leadership election, claiming someone of such an affluent background could never relate to the common man. Although many may say Bercow had a point, he never received a front bench position under Cameron and the relationship never recovered. Even before he was speaker he was not popular in his own party, when he stood to replace Michael Martin only 20 Conservative MPs backed Bercow meaning more from the party had voted in support of the war in Iraq.

One cause of regular controversy is Bercow’s wife Sally, former Big Brother contestant and overt Labour supporter. For many more traditional Conservatives, she is seen as an embarrassment and Mr Bercow’s devotion to her is seen as somewhat of a weakness. As much as he is loathed by the Tory party he is loved by many members of the Labour party. Ed Miliband apparently once met Bercow to convince him to cross the chamber but he was unsuccessful. Whether the failure was a misreading of Bercow’s values or an overestimation of Ed’s persuasive abilities remains unanswered but I am sure many may claim the latter is more likely.

One incident which Bobby Friedman discusses is his book on John Bercow is an apparent plot to field a terminally-ill candidate against the Speaker in the 2010 General Election. The hope was that they would pass away between selection and Election Day; this would trigger a clause in election law that requires the vote to be suspended by 28 days, which would mean Bercow would not have been elected as an MP in time for the Speaker’s election (which is the first act of a new Parliament). Sadly for the plotters they couldn’t find anyone who had removing the Speaker by means of an electoral loophole on their bucket list.

It doesn’t take much investigation to find some of the controversial correspondences Bercow has had while in the Speaker’s chair, including altercations with senior ministers such as Michael Gove, George Osborne and of course the Prime Minister himself. Many have been verging on rude and although he has a right to control proceedings many on the Conservative side deem the manner of his interruption condescending. In addition Bercow has also made some controversial decisions during his tenure including his support of an electronic voting system and in particular his appointment of Australian Carol Mills as Clerk to the House of Commons which was strongly opposed and was eventually overturned.

Just as Parliament was beginning to close for the 2015 General Election, and many Labour MPs had packed up for the Parliamentary recess, the Conservatives rushed through a vote to allow a secret ballot to remove the Speaker. This was led by William Hague with his last act as an outgoing MP, and was supported by Cameron and Gove in particular. It would effectively allow large numbers of Conservative MPs to vote to bring down Bercow without fear of the consequences. This motion was brought to the House to the surprise of most MPs including the Chairman of the Procedure Committee Charles Walker who delivered an emotive speech during the debate.

The actions of senior politicians had been villainous and back stabbing, when the vote results were received by the speaker he was understandably emotional, the motion was defeated with 202 votes for and 228 votes against.

With the vote, Bercow survived one of the most personal and spiteful attacks on an individual that recent politics has seen. It was clear that the Conservative party, hoping to pass the motion without the opposition present wanted to remove someone who was an inconvenience. Although John Bercow had a sharp tongue on occasion he did his job, bringing more urgent questions before senior ministers than anyone who had recently preceded him. He worked to bring Parliament in to the 21st century and make it more accessible to the public. Overall the majority of MPs respect him and feel he has done and is doing a good job, as his re-election after the General Election has proven.

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Last Update: April 29, 2018