Tuesday, September 02, 2014

The problem with John Bercow

Back in March 2010, when John Bercow had been in the Speaker's chair for less than a year, I wrote in Liberal Democrat News:
With his gown and boyish smile, John Bercow resembles a progressive young master in an old-fashioned school. And like a lot of masters who want to be popular with their pupils, he has trouble keeping order. 
You can trace his problems back to the undistinguished reign of Michael Martin. Often Buggins’ turn will get you through, but when the expenses storm broke over Westminster Martin proved to have none of the qualities needed to restore its standing in the eyes of the public. 
Trouble was, there was no way of getting rid him other than public ridicule. And in that process the authority, the mystique, of the Speakership took a battering too. 
Then there was the way Bercow got the job. When the election of the new Speaker took place David Cameron was riding high in the polls and many Labour MPs assumed they would soon lose their seats. What better way of getting back at an incoming Conservative House, those Labour MPs reasoned, than landing it with someone it would detest? 
And Bercow, though he started out as secretary of the Monday Club's immigration and repatriation committee, had been long been courting Labour backbenchers with an eye to the Speakership. He did it so blatantly that he became widely disliked on his own side. 
So we again have a Speaker who is not respected by many MPs, which has done nothing to rebuild the standing of the role.
Michael Martin had been elected as Speaker when the bookies' favourite had been Sir George Young, largely because Labour backbenchers believed a House dominated by their party should have a Labour speaker.

As I pointed out in another Lib Dem News column:
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.
To return to the first column, I was right to say he reminds you of a schoolmaster. But what he really reminds me of is the sort of teacher you find immensely impressive when you are 17, but are disappointed by if you meet them in later life. (It was David Grace who made this observation about teachers to me.)

That is the real problem with John Bercow, though many liberals will support his attempts to modernise the Commons. He comes across as a permanent undergraduate.

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