Thursday, 25 June 2009


The most repugnant element of John Bercow’s election as Speaker of the House of Commons was the way in which many Conservative MPs were so unmagnanimous about it, and even talked about him being ousted if the Tories have a majority after the next election.

It’s blatantly wrong to judge someone before they’ve had even a day in office. In addition, the Speaker is a neutral figure who should command respect from all parties. But most importantly, such a grudging, even parsimonious response to a victory that was as hard-fought as any constituency election shows that the Conservatives have not learned a thing from the public’s indignation about the expenses scandal.

Of course, when a Parliament with a Labour majority (yes, there’s still a Labour majority in Parliament in case you’d forgotten) votes for a Conservative MP to be Speaker, you know it won’t be a dyed-in-the-wool Tory. But that’s precisely the point! John Bercow has been elected because he has shown he understands points of view that go beyond the boundaries of his own party.

What the British public has been screaming for is a politics that reflects the reality in their own lives. That reality is that you have to make do with increasingly tight budgets, and that you have to find areas of compromise.

By contrast, our politics has become a parliamentary bubble in which members think it’s OK to claim for everything that moves (or flows, in the cast of moats). By doing so, MPs have got themselves and this country’s democratic traditions into deep water. So the election of a new Speaker became a signal of whether the Westminster village was willing to think outside its own bubble – and in the election of John Bercow, it showed it was.

I have no idea how good a Speaker Bercow will be, but in the current circumstances the election of a man who has clearly modified his convictions on the basis of experience and listening to other people’s points of view is a good sign. And if he’s too far to the left for many Tories, that is precisely what makes him a Speaker in whom many of us can have some hope.

I understand he has a manner that can alienate as much as attract, but the man deserves a chance. And if the Conservatives can’t accept that a 46-year-old Speaker who has some ideas of his own might be good for British parliamentary democracy, it makes you wonder how fit they are to be the party of government.