John Bercow was not just a bully, but a failure too
His was arguably the worst Speakership in history
The verdict is in. John Bercow, the former Speaker of the House of Commons, has been found guilty by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards on 21 out of 35 counts of bullying.
For those interested, the full report has been released online. It makes in places for astonishing reading: he repeatedly denies imitating people in order to belittle them, but then the author notes that:
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It also brands him a “serial bully” and “serial liar”.
Hopefully this will be the last we hear of Mr Bercow. Given that Labour has suspended his membership, and he has received a lifetime ban from Parliament, it seems unlikely anyone is now going to give him the peerage he craves.
The report is also a grim but somehow fitting end to what was probably the most abysmal speakership in the history of Parliament. For the arrogance it reveals mirrors perfectly Bercow’s attitude towards the traditions of the House of Commons and the proper role of the Speaker.
Everyone remembers the dramatic closing chapter, where he unilaterally rewrote the rules, against the advice of the clerks, to help Opposition MPs wrest control of the legislative agenda from the Government. But this was merely the culmination of a decade-long process.
Bercow was, after all, only a moderniser when it suited him. He made a great show of dispensing with the traditional regalia of the Speaker on the grounds that it “wasn’t really him”, yet still expected MPs to spring from his path as he processed through the Palace of Westminster. He enjoyed the free tickets and the grace-and-favour home. And all the while, it turns out, he was treating people around him abominably.
Yet at a time when there was no majority and the political stakes couldn’t be higher, it suited a lot of MPs to look the other way. Just as it suited Labour MPs to elect a man they knew would be a thorn in the side of David Cameron when they chose him back in 2009.
In the end, his disdain for tradition came back to bite him. As he noted in an interview with A UK in a Changing Europe:
Bercow wanted everything to be about him; as a result, much of his work has not outlived his tenure as Speaker. It will likely not be much comfort to his victims, from whose complaints he was too long shielded, but he ends his political career not just a bully, but a failure.
Bercow, by a comfortable margin, was the worst speaker in living memory. Whichever side of the Brexit debate you might sit on you cannot – or at least should not – lightly throw aside the absolute neutrality of the Speaker’s office, for narrow political gain. Yet Remain supporting politicians and media outlets did precisely that – many of them knowing how utterly unfit Bercow was to hold the office of Speaker.
Whilst his obviously partisan approach might have suited their agenda it set a very, VERY dangerous precedent. The Speaker MUST remain above petty party politics. The fact that the obnoxious Mr Bercow decided that he should abandon any semblance of neutrality means his place in the history books is assured – which I fear might have been his prime motivation – yet he has utterly debased his office and the history books will be – rightly – very unkind to him.
Having now been outed as a serial liar and bully, any hopes of a peerage or, frankly, any public role have evaporated. Good!
He overturned long standing procedure and convention specifically to limit a PM’s political leeway. The Remain backing media cheered that on. Betty Boothroyd was reported as describing Mr Bercow’s actions as “disgusting” and an “absolute and utter disgrace”. She was entirely right.
Perhaps the media should now do their job and contact Dame Margaret Beckett and Emily Thornberry, for comment. They quite deliberately covered up Bercow’s bullying and gross misogyny towards female members of his staff, for partisan advantage. Had a Tory tried to gloss over such egregious behaviour the other side would no doubt have been calling for his head.
When the allegations (which were common knowledge around Westminster) came to public attention Beckett insisted that Bercow should stay in post because Brexit “trumps bad behaviour”.
Bercow had guaranteed some influential Remain zealots that he would see to it that Parliament would get a “meaningful vote” on whatever deal Theresa May managed to get out of Barnier’s team. Beckett persuaded many Remain MPs to overlook the pugnacious little Hobbit’s behaviour to ensure that they secured control of Parliamentary business on Brexit.
She told the BBC, “It seems to me that we would potentially add to the number of disasters we have inflicted upon ourselves of late were we to choose, or the speaker were to choose, to go at this time. …. ….. I would say to him to keep his powder dry for now because we are going to embark on this huge constitutional experiment in which there may be a key role for the speaker.”
Somewhat surprisingly the BBC journalist actually pushed back and asked if her stance meant that the Labour Party condoned bullying. Beckett dodged it – “Abuse is terrible, it should be stopped. …. ….. But yes, if it comes to the constitutional future of this country, the most difficult decision we have made, not since the war but possibly, certainly in all our lifetimes, hundreds of years, yes it trumps bad behaviour.”
The ghastly Lady Nugee was of a similar opinion, “that this is absolutely not the time to be changing speaker. …. …… We don’t know, with regard to Brexit, what is going to happen – whether there is going to be, technically, an amendable motion or not. But it will be the Speaker’s discretion as to whether it is and we need to have all hands to the deck at the moment.”
Every time they stick their heads above the parapet to complain about their opponents, these two creatures should be reminded of the elasticity of their principles.
All through the Brexit debate the media offered Bercow cover, not merely for his bullying, or his lack of neutrality, but also for his past. Given the propensity of Guardian editorials to indulge in “Offence Archaeology” to uncover minor indiscretions of public figures from 20 or 30 years ago and then using them to hound people out of office, you have to admit that their new-found laissez-faire attitude, due only to the culprit’s anti-Brexit bias, might be deemed a wee bit self-serving
Bercow began his career as an ardent admirer of Enoch Powell. He has since tried to suggest that he left the Monday Club when he decided he longer agreed with their stance, however a fellow member remembers it rather differently, “.. he wasn’t very popular in the Monday Club. He just rubbed people up the wrong way because he was extremely pushy and rather pleased with himself.” …..”He used to read (Enoch) Powell’s speeches and regurgitate them word for word, because he has this amazing memory. I always thought at the time that he sounded a bit like Enoch Powell, as if he modelled his voice on him when he made speeches.”
Fellow students at Essex University recall his stance on identity politics …. “Essex was a very left-wing university at the time and he was pretty much universally despised,” said one contemporary. “He was always attacking left-wingers, gays and feminists. After one speech he made at the student union one of the feminists walked up to him and poured a pint of beer over his head.”
Bercow quit the Monday Club in 1982 and instead joined the Federation of Conservative Students, eventually rising to become its chairman at about the same time it was printing leaflets with the slogan “Hang Nelson Mandela”.
Imagine anyone surviving such scandalous stories if they were on the Leave side of the argument.
Truly, our established media were quite demented by Brexit. Their whole output viewed through an anti-Brexit, anti-Tory prism. For 5 years nothing was judged on its merits: No principle, no policy, no statement, or solution, no legislation was seen in any other way. Just how it pertained to the relentlessly jaundiced view of Brexit, Brexit supporters and even democracy itself.
I’ve little doubt that even if their bogeyman Trump had converted to the Remain cause they’d have almost immediately re-evaluated him and, before the week was out, we’d have been treated to an editorial telling us that Donald was a true statesman, Cicero reborn, with the wisdom of Solomon and the magnetism of a young JFK.
It will be interesting to see which of the Politicians or media outlets that protected Bercow – the Guardian and BBC to the fore – will now admit what a dreadful man he was and is, and if they’ll feel any twinge of shame in having supported this indefensible little martinet.
You should wait a little while then write an article for Unherd on Bercow!
not only should he never be forgiven for his behaviour, the costs and delays endeavouring to renege on Brexit, but also those Remain MPs who allowed him that leeway against their so-called principles should be forever linked to him and the reputation that he has garnered for himself. Your article Paddy is a democratic sword to the heart of the Bercow affair. long may it remain in it.
We must also bear in mind that he was voted into office by the Labour Party as an act of spite, even though they knew he was patently unsuitable
I usually dislike long posts, but not this one.
The Guardian and BBC won’t admit anything. If they can’t find some way of reversing the conclusion (and they are expert in exploiting the most trivial of things), it will simply be ignored; our Ministry of Truth.
Excellent comment. But he’s not a hobbit, they are wonderful people. More a goblin
Or, perhaps he could run for Mayor of Munchkin Land
Twerp would be my choice. How wonderful it is that we won’t have to hear him pontificate in the House of Lords.
I never thought that Bercow was a nice man. But the most important part of a Speakers’ duties is to defend the freedom and authority of parliament. When a government – of one side – goes against standard procedures and the unwritten constitution to neutralise parliament on the most important issue of the day, it is not possible to defend Parliaments’ prerogatives without taking sides against that government.
In the somewhat unusual circumstance of the whole, interminable Brexit debate, one could make the argument that the speakers duty was almost “to defend the freedom and authority of” representative democracy FROM parliament.
Democracy is government in which power and civic responsibility are exercised by all citizens. One man, one vote. Your vote counts – as a member of an electorate, whether you are a Duke or a dustman, young or old, male or female. You have the right to cast your vote and your vote is equal to anyone else’s. Such Democracy rests upon the principles of majority rule, coupled with individual and minority rights.
Parliament is deemed Sovereign – but that is in the gift of the people they represent. (Otherwise being an MP would be a job for life)
At an election we select Representatives who hold our Sovereignty in trust and exercise it on our behalf for the term of that Parliament. But in granting a referendum parliament once again returned such sovereignty as they hold back onto the UK electorate to make their decision on this single issue as it was deemed too important a question not to put it directly to the electorate.
Most MPs realised that morally, ethically and possibly legally they simply did not have a leg to stand on once they had agreed to put the question to the British people in a plebiscite. They were then duty bound to act on the instruction given to them by the majority – and that was a decision to leave the EU – and all the ramifications that came with that decision – whether you (or they) liked that decision or not.
I say “most MPs” because, sadly, we had other MPs and activists, ably assisted by useful idiots in the Media and a nakedly partisan Speaker, who held the electorate in contempt and tried every trick in the book to thwart democracy. You cannot then pipe up and complain – in the name of democratic principle – when a sitting Govt (finally) stood up to these anti-democrats in order to implement the decision of the largest single issue mandate in our history.
If you support democracy then you have to respect a democratic vote. If you do not respect the result – just because it is against the outcome you hoped for – then you do not support democracy. QED.
There are countries where the government claims to know the ‘will of the people’ and claim the right to overrule parliament, courts etc. because of the mystic connection. They are all authoritarian. Democratic countries follow rules.
In this case, was it the ‘will of the people’ to stay in the customs union? To have a soft or hard Brexit? To have harmonisation with EU rules, or a border in the Irish Sea, or a no-deal Brexit? The people were never asked and never said, and the leave campaign never made it clear what people were supposed to be voting for. This is the kind of question that belongs in Parliament, and should not be hijacked by the government or a backbench research group.
It was the Remain side, assisted by a partisan Speaker who tore up long established consititutional and parliamentary conventions, all in an effort to thwart the sitting Govt in carrying out a course of action that had specifically been voted on in a national referendum.
The Speaker’s own clerks advised him not to. Yet Remain supporters cheered that on.
The opposition, with Bercow’s assistance, used the arcane parliamentary device of the humble address to hamper the Govt, forcing the publication of papers (the AG’s advice to Govt) that have always been confidential by long standing convention. Remainers cheered that on, too.
It was Bercow et al who arbitrarily altered the constitutional position, by going against convention, to achieve their ends.
The Govt was not doing that – they simply used existing executive powers to try and achieve their ends. (Those ends being the major manifesto policy that saw them elected).
Whilst I do not impugn the impartiality of the Supreme Court, when the most senior Judge in the land, in the person of the Lord Chief Justice, assisted by the Master of the Rolls and the President of the Queen’s Bench Division come to a considered conclusion unanimously that the Prorogation was beyond the scope of the law courts, yet find their judgement overturned by all 11 of the SC Judges (all of whom are out-ranked by the Lord Chief Justice), then we are into uncharted territory.
It had deep and dangerous ramifications and it might very well be that the SC’s decision – albeit unanimous – will be picked over in the years to come and, if not found to be legally incorrect, might be deemed injudicious.
In inserting themselves into overtly political matters the Supreme Court set a precedent that will likely haunt them – at the very least changing the perceived independence and autonomy of the judiciary.
If Judges are seen to be political they will have to be accountable to the electorate. And no one who has seen the high drama and low politics of the American judiciary should want to go down that road.
We are not going to agree.
That’s okay. At least we can be polite about it.
The referendum showed that it was the preference of the electorate to leave the EU. Our elected representatives were given that clear indication.
If Parliament had adopted the softest of departures – Norway plus – by a majority in favour then they would have honoured the referendum. Many would have been disappointed but if that was the decision of the majority of elected representatives ther could be little complaint.
But dogmatism and party political shenanigans precluded sensible debate and compromise.
The outcome was, fortunately, a restatement by the electorate of their supremacy over their parliamentary representatives and a reassertion of our fundamental democratic rights enshrined as far back as Magna Carta.
Gawd he was horrible. I couldn’t watch the news for months because of the biased reporting on the Remainers trying to block Brexit any way they could. It was a nightmare.
But, as with everything in this world, what goes around comes around, action reaction, and the result of the elites perpetual blocking was the electorate giving us Boris and a big majority, with a better Brexit than the one offered by May.
spot on…the use Remain made of Bercow and the misuse he made of accepted constitutional practice is a stain on both.
A parliament in a shame faced war with those that elect it is a very dangerous situation to be in.
The chaos of that May premiership was willed and calculated in order to stick it onto *Brexit*.
The idea of the people’s elected representatives in a representative parliament which was used as the intellectual shield for the attempt to engineer the typical EU vote-again situation was shown up in December 2019 when, I feel, the size of that landslide was a true *people’s vote* on what they had to sit through night after night.
Watching on TV the odious narcissist bent rules and debased parliamentary procedure in a dishonest attempt to subvert democracy, not buttress it.
The sheer unctuousness of Remainers trying to *forget* all of this, as they do, is breathtaking.
I will never forgive Bercow for putting us through two years of political agony. He – along with parliamentary fellow travellers – almost destroyed my faith in British democracy.
Yeah, it was awful. But we got it in the end.
One good thing that I stuck with through that 2017-2019 organised Parliament of Chaos…willed, orchestrated and connived chaos…was that it was actually our Brexit debate being opened out, noisly examined and re-examined, and, eventually, confirmed.
The EU has even now not really opened up it’s own debate why such a large country, economically and militarily..to say nothing of cultural soft power… upped sticks and left.
Remainer offerings about Brits never being fully engaged, or very committed, are insubstantial sticking plasters over a gaping wound the organisation desperately needs to properly debate but seems unable to even acknowledge.
Personally I feel the clue lies in the fact we voted almost 70% to stay in the EEC yet voted to leave the EU; in the acronym itself.
I always think there’s a clue in a persons name. I would think twice before I put someone in charge of the till, if they were called Crook.
In this instance berc and cow do seem to sum up this man’s nature.
Funny that, I generally think of the current prime minister as ‘the Johnson’. I just normally do not say it, to avoid causing unnecessary offence.
Having read the report, I note the word ‘spittle is mentioned 7 times. And that the fellow had a problem with bringing some form of toothpaste out of the UK and into Kenya. I wonder if he has some sort of rare buccal problem and could have introduced medical evidence to explain the many misunderstandings.
The really funny thing about Bercow and the others like Grieve, Lady Nugee, Starmer and the virtually forgotten likes of Chukka is that it was only through them that we actually left the EU.
If they’d taken the win that PM May was handing them we’d be trapped for good but they stupidly overplayed their hand.
They deserve great credit and I hope they know how important they were in that endeavour.
All vestiges of his time as speaker should be eradicated any official portraits etc. should be removed and put in storage.
No! We must not forget his actions against the people.
Lots of comments from earlier today have mysteriously disappeared
Indeed, it has happened a fair bit to me lately.
deleted by author
Are the little snowflakes melting? Suborning the unwritten constitution would appear to be a far more serious concept than insulting the tender feelings of a number of employees; but Bercow is now to be forsworn as a bully rather than a revolutionary? The self-indictment of a powerless debating society.
History will recognise that the behaviour of Parliament between 2017 and 2019 undermined the fundamental basis of our representative democracy. The Speaker of the House was a key element of the House ignoring the expressed opinion of their electorate and following their own course. At the 2019 election a number of Members received a resounding rejection from their electorate and the people expressed their opinion in the strongest terms.
Has the lesson been learned? Quite possibly not. The next issues will be Net Zero and the definition of a woman.
Bercow is absolutely superb. He personifies the decay in our ruling class, “The Establishment “since 1945. He is the boil on the body politic and and all those who support him are drawn to the surface and made visible.
I have read the report – it is damning.
Two things stood out for me:
- What on earth was the Tory party doing allowing this poisonous, odious man to be elevated as the most senior MP in Parliament; and how could the Labour Party welcome such a revolting creature into its ranks? If the values and behaviours of Bercow are espoused by both political parties, no wonder the general electorate is so cynical about both!
- The report gives an insight into Bercow’s toxic commitment to ‘diversity’ and how he used (abused) his powerful position at the heart of the British democratic system to progress s venomously woke agenda. The Establishment in the public, private and charitable sectors is swollen with people like him.
Bercow was never a very attractive or likeable person, so the judgement is not that big a surprise. But he deserves great credit for trying to protect the power of parliament, against a government trying prevent it from being part of the most important decision in a generation. And a side who (illegally, as judges decided) tried to prorogue parliament in order to neuter it is on shaky ground when invoking respect for tradition
Or you could argue that the Government was hamstrung in its duty to implement the results of the Referendum and far too many people were aided in their desire to subvert democracy by a narcissist in the wrong place at the wrong time.
You could, depending on where you stand. But, in general terms, if the government is hamstrung by parliament in its efforts to carry out its policies, do you think the government should be able to override parliament?
You may be laying a trap, but I’m going to say yes, since all main parties had agreed to honour the result of the referendum.
Which just moves the question to who gets to interpret what the referendum means – parliament or government.
We all know what it meant, which is why those who didn’t like the result tried so hard to overturn it.
Actually, we did not know what it meant. Soft Brexit, Hard Brexit, and Remain ran about even in the polls afterwards. Of course people wanted what the Boris promised: the freedom of leaving, and also the advantages of being a member; full market access and full independence in setting UK rules; having your cake and eating it. But when it turned out that this could not actually be delivered (as a lot of people had known ahead of time), which part of the promises were you supposed to keep? Theresa May went for the hardest possible Brexit without introducing borders within the UK. The Boris ‘solved’ the problem by making a deal with the EU based on a border in the Irish sea, and immediately breaking his word. But this is the kind of decision where Parliament wanted, and ought, to be involved.
I agree, there was a proper discussion to be had about the details of the divorce settlement. Unfortunately, that never really happened, because one side couldn’t be reconciled with the fact that the marriage had ended.
Glad to see our hokey-cokey exchange is back in. It’s been in and out twice now – not sure what’s causing the moderators to get into such a flap.
The hard thing is that this discussion would have had to be about trade-offs. What did Britain want, what could you realistically get out of the EU, and which demands would Britain be willing to / have to compromise on. And – as it looked from the Remain side – that was impossible because the Leave side took it as an article of faith that Brexit was all pros and no cons, and anything less than the maximum demands was defeatism, treason, or both. Of course it did not help that Labour basically refused to make up its mind and went with “Just elect JC and whatever he comes up with will be great!”.
In fact I think that this starting point is what gave people an opening to try to undo the result. If the campaign had been run on “It may be costly – but we will be Free! We will pay whatever it costs”, no one could have disputed the resulting mandate. But campaign on “have your cake and eat it”, and it seems reasonable you can still work for having it rather than eating it – since whatever your mandate you manifestly cannot do both.
I partially agree; it is indeed the job of the speaker to ensure that MPs get their say and are able to vote on all government policy, and I agree that the attempt to porogue parliament was a massive step too far; however, whenever I saw Mr Bercow in action he appeared to be one-sided, sometime ignoring MPs who were known Brexiteers. It wasn’t just me who saw this, my friends and family who were staunch remainers cheered him on because of this behaviour. A speaker should be seen to be disinterested, hard I know as they are all political animals, and if he felt he was unable to uphold the impartiality needed in the speaker’s role then he should never had taken the post.
Indeed, he was not a good speaker.
Spot on..there’s the theory of Parliamentary procedure etc and the practice. I like our unwritten constitution with all it’s quirks as I feel it’s provided a defence against the sort of upheavals seen in many other countries…and there is the practice.
May’s messed up 2017 GE that could have made the representative parliament truly representative created the conditions for Bercow to become partisan, something everyone could see, almost every night.
Had the 2019 result happened in ’17 I don’t think we would have had that conflicted Parliament for 2 years where around 75% of members personally disagreed with the referendum result.
Rasmus, you’re better than this.
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