Friday, June 26, 2009

The election of John Bercow as Speaker

My House Points column from today's Liberal Democrat News. What is really wrong about electing Bercow as Speaker, of course, is that he is younger than I am.

Traduced Tory

Spare a thought for Sir George Young. He has now lost the Speakership twice for partisan reasons. Nine years ago he failed to win because government backbenchers were determined that a Labour House should have a Labour speaker. Now he has lost to John Bercow because those same Labour MPs anticipate a Tory landslide and want a Speaker who will be thorn in David Cameron’s side.

But then many Liberal Democrat MPs voted for Bercow too. They believe he will prove a reformer.

They would be wrong to place too much emphasis on the fact that Bercow is a relatively youthful Speaker. It’s not so long since we had a young family man at 10 Downing Street – and look how he ended up.

Nor should they be too excited by his decision to dispense with most of the Speaker’s traditional dress. The flummery at Westminster can be irritating, but it’s hardly the most serious problem the British political system faces.

Bercow is saying the right things. He has talked of “an agenda for reform, for renewal, for revitalisation and for the reassertion of the core values of this great institution in the context of the 21st century".

Even so, you fear his recipe for reconnecting parliament with the public involves one J. Bercow appearing on television with great regularity.

What the he must do is help the Commons begin the process of reining in the executive. In particular, the timetabling of business must be taken out of the hands of the government and put in the hands of a committee of the House. At present too many laws goes through without being debated at all.

And if that means less legislation, that would be no bad thing.

How much power the Speaker has to do this remains to be seen. Bercow may have an uphill task to convince those who see his political odyssey from the far right of the Tories to the shores of New Labour as pure opportunism.

There is, incidentally, another reason why Sir George Young lost, and it tells you a lot about Labour backbenchers. They could forgive Bercow for being the former secretary of the Monday club's immigration and repatriation committee, but they could not forgive Young for being an Old Etonian.

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