Archive for the 'Speaker' Category

h1

Whatever you think of Bercow it is right that the executive has less control over proceedings of the elected House

Tuesday, January 15th, 2019

Like many I’ve often been irritated by John Bercow particularly at the lengthy interjections he likes to make at PMQs which can appear like grandstanding.

    It is said that his approach to the role is anti-Tory, a view I don’t hold. If he appears that way it is down to the fact that for the vast majority of his time in the job the Tories have been in power and inevitably the executive hates anything that impedes their actions.

Basically he is just sticking up for the elected members of the House against a government that gives the impression of being reluctant to recognise that it should be accountable to the elected members.

This has been more the case since TMay entered Number 10 as evidenced by the way she put back the Brexit deal vote last month until today. That move alone more than justifies Bercow’s approach and the way he uses his powers to select amendments and the like.

Sometimes, maybe, he oversteps the mark but I’d prefer that to a Speaker who simply kowtows to what Number 10 wants in many cases cutting out the views of elected MPs.

This is a big moment in Britain’s political history and we mustn’t forget that much of Mrs May’s predicament is self made. She, on the advice apparently of DDavis, called the last election three years early to shore up her small majority and ended up with no majority at all. That inevitably diminished her authority as well as creating an ongoing dilemma for the government when it comes to tight votes.

Arguably, as well, she made a huge mistake in triggering the rigid timetable of Article 50 process before the government had worked out precisely what it wanted and what it was going to do. That wasn’t Bercow’s fault but Number 10`s misjudgement.

Labour for all their protestations cannot moan on the Article 50 timing. Remember that on the day after the referendum in June 2016 Mr Corbyn called for the immediate invoking of Article 50.

Mike Smithson




h1

It’s time for the Tories to pick a candidate for Buckingham

Saturday, January 12th, 2019

Bercow needs to be eased out, one way or another

Goodwill is the oil which lubricates the British constitution. The rules of parliament have been inherited from a time when governing was a gentlemen’s business and was expected to be carried out by gentlemen acting as gentlemen. Self-restraint and the awareness of when it becomes inappropriate to keep pushing a case are an essential aspect to enabling the system to work. Parliament is frequently criticised for being overly adversarial – and so it is – but that conflict is also bounded by an unwritten (and unwriteable) code of conduct.

So what, you might ask. Well, that code of conduct is defined in large part by convention and precedent, meaning that they should only be interfered with either when there’s a consensus for change or when a political crisis becomes so intense that it becomes necessary to break the code.

Which brings us forthwith to John Bercow and his innovation this week in allowing MPs to table and vote on amendments to the government’s programme of business; something which sounds like (and is) a fairly dry and arcane subject but it’s an important one.

Let me set my own cards out here. Allowing MPs to determine the business in front of the House is a good thing. The government has too much power over the procedures of parliament, and the events in it, and there’s no rational reason why the House should not determine for itself what it discusses and votes on, though clearly someone has to take a lead in tabling a draft timetable and the government is best-placed to do that. However, the issue is not whether it would be beneficial to make that change but whether reform should come about by discussion among MPs and a vote on procedure, or whether it can be introduced unilaterally by the Speaker.

In amending the rules when and how he has, then Bercow gives the impression of changing procedure not in order to give MPs more control in general but in order to influence the outcome of a specific issue – an impression that may be accurate.

Also, the controversy over the Grieve amendment doesn’t stand in isolation; it’s just the latest in a series of spats where his impartiality has been in doubt, not just between the Commons and the government – where you can make an argument that the Speaker shouldn’t be impartial – but between the two sides of the House, where it most certainly should.

The perception of a Speaker who is willing to use his powers in order to tilt the playing field in favour of an outcome he privately champions (even if his means of so doing in this case is to introduce a change which is, in general, beneficial), is one that undermines his authority to such an extent as to make his Speakership unviable. As such, he needs to go.

There are, in any case, at least two other reasons why Bercow’s time should already have passed. The first is that when he took on the job, he promised to serve no more than nine years. That was nine years and seven months ago (which incidentally makes him the longest-serving Speaker since the 1940s: it’s not as if nine years is an unusually or unreasonably short tenure). The other is in his inadequate response to claims of bullying and harassment within the House, which again should, of itself, have been enough to prompt his departure.

That brings us back to the question of convention, and the principle that one good flout deserves another. Until recently, a Speaker served until they died or decided to retire, unchallenged in the House and rarely challenged in general elections (though not contesting the Speaker’s constituency has been only patchily observed even among major parties – the SNP and UKIP have never abided by it and as recently as 1987, both Labour and the SDP stood against Speaker Weatherill in Croydon NE).

Those conventions are clearly breaking down, with increasing talk of Bercow being challenged within the House, potentially under a Vote of Confidence. For two successive Speakers to be forced out would be unfortunate in one sense, but perhaps still the right outcome given that both men are or were sub-standard in the role.

Alternatively, a longer-term action – but one carrying clear intent – would be for the Conservative Party to select a candidate for Buckingham and begin campaign preparations. Niceties can be observed by merely claiming that doing so is consistent with Bercow’s ‘nine year’ pledge and his later revision that he now intends to serve out this parliament. It would, however, send an unmistakeable signal to him that he would not get another clear run should he revise his retirement plans again and seek to serve on. Given Bercow’s willingness to retain the Speakership through to 2022, the possibility of a general election before then, and his own sense of self, such a revision is entirely plausible.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that the Tory would win against Bercow in Buckingham but nor is there any guarantee that the Speaker would either, even if he had the tacit endorsement of Labour and the Lib Dems. For reference, the last time that Bercow stood as a Conservative (in 2005), he won 57% of the vote and had a majority of over 18,000.

Brexit is in many ways a rule-breaker. Passions are high and with those passions go a disregard for the conventions of behaviour and self-restraint. That’s a shame, because those conventions play a valuable role in keeping a system running smoothly which has generally worked well over the centuries. Breaking them should not go without consequences.

David Herdson



h1

As if things weren’t complicated enough

Monday, December 3rd, 2018



h1

To add to the current incendiary political mix Bercow is coming under pressure to resign

Tuesday, October 16th, 2018

Can he hang on?

When the report on sexual harassment in the Palace of Westminster came out yesterday I thought that Bercow was extremely lucky over the timing.

Everything at the moment is so focused on the critical stages in Britain’s exit from the EU that what in normal times would be a colossal political development was going to get sidelined.

This morning’s newspapers suggest otherwise and my initial view was wrong. Although print circulations are drastically down on the glory days what goes on the front pages of the main national newspapers can have a political impact. That the Times is leading on the report this morning keeps the pot boiling.

Although the report does not mention anybody by name the Speaker does have overall responsibility for all things within the Commons and some of the guarded phrases in the report were clearly pointing at Mr Bercow.

Undoubtedly there is clearly a culture in the Palace of Westminster which needs to be sorted and the question is how that is to be done. This is quite difficult because MPs are not employees in the normal sense of the word. They are there because they have won an election and although there is a recall procedure it is hard to see how that can apply here.

Bercow is no stranger to controversy following his election after his predecessor, Michael Martin, resigned a decade ago. In many ways I think he has done a good job because he’s always been prepared to hold the executive to account and to make the Commons matter. You can see why ministers and those in government might at times be very frustrated with him but his approach has surely been the right one in a parliamentary democracy.

In the next speaker betting Bercow’s deputy, the popular Lindsay Hoyle, is the odds on favourite to replace him. The question is whether there will be a contest.

Bercow’s response to the report could be crucial.

Mike Smithson




h1

Speaker cornered. Time for John Bercow to stand down as Speaker

Sunday, June 24th, 2018

I have a soft spot for John Bercow, located somewhere around my wallet.  Over the years he has been a steady source of income for me as he has survived in office as Speaker, despite the noises off that regularly come from Conservative backwoodsmen harrumphing about his supposed rudeness and perceived unConservativeness.  Despite abundant evidence that only a small minority were willing to put their heads above the parapet, enough Bercowphobes were regularly willing to put money on the proposition that he would be ejected from the Speaker’s chair by given dates to enable me to make a decent income.

I’ve bet on John Bercow seeing out 2018 too. I expect I’ll collect on this bet. Yet here I am, arguing (against my own financial interest) that he should step down now. Why?

I need to start answering that question by explaining why I think John Bercow has been an excellent Speaker to this point. Contrary to popular belief, the Speaker’s role has never been just to be impartial. The Speaker’s role is to ensure that the legislature can effectively hold the executive to account.

John Bercow has consistently sided with the legislature against the executive, never giving it an easy ride. He has allowed Prime Minister’s Questions to expand well beyond the bounds of its original 30 minute duration – something which incidentally has allowed for more backbench voices to be heard in the prime Parliamentary slot. He has been very ready to accept urgent questions from MPs, requiring ministers to explain government policy. 

In short, John Bercow has done his best to make sure that the legislature has been given the fullest role in the governance of the country. In this regard, helped by two hung Parliaments and one tenuous overall majority, he has probably been the most effective Speaker in living memory. Some of his fondly-remembered predecessors were pretty poor at their job: their complaisance with government agendas was completely at odds with their responsibilities.

Unsurprisingly, this Speaker has not been popular with the government, who would much prefer a quiet life.  Both David Cameron and Theresa May have allowed rumours of their frustration with the Speaker to percolate into the wider public domain.  David Cameron was not above channelling animal spirits on the backbenches into frustration with the Speaker as a means of deflecting the awkward squad onto another target, in the same way that you might throw a stick for a highly strung Alsatian before it decided that it wanted to savage you.  The Speaker has been a harmless safety valve for that nervous energy.

So, why do I think John Bercow should step down now?  In short, he has reached the point on two fronts – the toxic culture of politics and Brexit – where he has become part of the problem. 

The usual suspects will be fixating about Brexit.  The Speaker is entitled to his personal views on the subject.  He was after all, like every other MP, originally elected on a political program.  Brexit, however, is unusually controversial even by the standards of most political topics.  And the government has just conceded, as part of the most controversial provision of the most controversial bill in years, that it will be for the Speaker to determine whether a motion when it is introduced by the Government under the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is or is not in fact cast in neutral terms and hence whether the motion is or is not amendable. 

The compromise is opaque, the passions on both sides run high.  Different views have already been expressed about the scope of the Speaker’s powers.  The Speaker’s decision will be final and effectively unchallengeable.  There is a serious risk that Brexit will get even more divisive as one side or the other concludes that Parliamentary procedure has been used to deal a stab in the back.

Against this background, some Leavers have the concern that the Speaker will not be able to put aside his pungently-expressed personal views when exercising his powers.  Putting a “bollocks to Brexit” sticker on his car is like catnip to a group who are already apt to see vast conspiracies lurking round every corner.  It was gratuitous.  It was, it can now be seen with the benefit of hindsight, very ill-judged.

Caesar divorced his wife because she had to be above suspicion.  The House of Commons is entitled to have a Speaker who is above suspicion, particularly on such a highly charged subject.  John Bercow is not capable of being that man. 

British politics has a still bigger and more deeply rooted problem than Brexit: personal abuse of power. It is becoming increasingly apparent that politics has far too many people who feel able to take advantage of subordinates: see here and here for further depressing details.This is not confined to Westminster.

Only this week, an MSP was recommended for suspension for harassment and a Welsh Assembly report found that over a quarter of respondents had experienced inappropriate behaviour and over 30% had observed inappropriate behaviour. This is an endemic problem that urgently needs addressing.

As the legislature’s figurehead, the Speaker should be leading the charge to address this. Instead, he has been accused of bullying behaviour from several sources. He strongly denies the claims and he has to date successfully fought it even being investigated, benefiting from the casting vote of Sir Christopher Chope (more recently of infamy over the upskirting bill) blocking an inquiry.

It transpires that the Speaker had previously nominated Sir Christopher for his knighthood. Fairly or unfairly, it all looks a bit too cosy. Because John Bercow is at the centre of unresolved allegations, he cannot be the change that British politics urgently needs. Worse, that change cannot happen until he goes.

Speaker Bercow promised on his election that he would step down after nine years in office. He has evidently repented of that commitment but he should keep it. John Bercow has been a great Speaker. He should go now before he gets in the way of his role.

Alastair Meeks




h1

This looks like a spectacular bust up between the SNP and the Speaker but it does look staged

Wednesday, June 13th, 2018

TSE



h1

From bollocks to Brexit to bollocks to Bercow?

Thursday, May 31st, 2018

The Speaker seems determined to annoy the Leavers and with crucial votes on Brexit coming up that seems unwise.

Former Monday Club member John Bercow has a history of needlessly antagonising people with his words & actions and I fear that his bumper sticker will rightly annoy Leavers especially with crucial Brexit votes scheduled for June in the House of Commons.

A Speaker needs to be seen to be fair and impartial and the fear among Leavers will be with close votes due on Brexit the Speaker’s personal views on Brexit might impede his judgment. As an innovative Speaker he might choose to ignore or adapt Speaker Denison’s rule, which could have the potential to trigger an early general election especially if the Government lost a key Brexit vote.

So Leavers might see this as an opportunity and the perfect motive to remove John Bercow, the fact we are coming up to the time John Bercow originally planned to stand down from the Speakership should help the plotters.

Quite frankly you can’t see Lindsay Hoyle, Bercow’s likely replacement, pulling shenanigans like this. Speaker Bercow only needs to lose the support of a significant minority of MPs to see his position become untenable, his actions are increasing the chances of his ousting this summer.

TSE

 



h1

The Buckingham constituency where there must be a high chance of a by-election within 18 months

Tuesday, May 15th, 2018

There’s not been a “normal” election here since GE2005

One of the intriguing facets of the current speculation over the Speaker, John Bercow, is that there could be a by-election within the next year and a half in the Buckingham parliamentary constituency.

There were reports at the weekend that Mr Bercow has indicated to friends that he plans to stand down in 2019 though there could be something earlier if the pressure on him continues. If he does step aside he’ll almost certainly quit as an MP and would probably be elevated to the Lords.

The normal convention which is honoured by the main parties is that Speakers are not challenged when they stand for re-election in their own constituencies. So at GE2010, Bercow’s first general election as Speaker, Labour and the Lib Dems did not put up candidates although Nigel Farage challenged him as did a prominent pro-EU former Conservative MEP, John Stevens. Bercow won easily but Stevens beat Farage for second place and the former leader of UKIP only picked up 17% of the vote.

That election will be remembered for the plane crash that Nigel Farage was in while flying in a light plane over the constituency on election day itself. My understanding is that quite a few Tory activists were helping on the Farage campaign while some Lib Dems were supporting Stevens.

The fact that it has been held by the Speaker for so long is that there are no previous elections for us to make comparisons with. At GE2005, with different boundaries, Bercow stood as a Tory and got 57% of the vote.

At GE1966 the seat was won for Labour by the controversial former media magnate Robert Maxwell. He lost it to the Tories at GE1970.

A 2018/2019 by-election would likely be a battle between the Tories and the Lib Dems who would fancy their chances of putting up a challenge in a seat that went Remain at the referendum. No doubt both parties have already got contingency plans for fighting such an election.

Mike Smithson