Archive for the 'Speaker' Category


Next week could see Bercexit if some Tory Leavers have their way

Thursday, April 18th, 2019

Tory Leavers might be about to make the same mistake with Bercow that they made with Mrs May last December.

In today’s Times there’s this story

Conservative MPs are to launch a further attempt to prise John Bercow from office amid anger over what they claim is the Speaker’s bias against Brexit.

The backbencher behind the move, who says it has support from the government front bench, warned Mr Bercow yesterday that “enough is enough”.

There have been reports that the Speaker wants to stay in his post beyond the summer if Brexit is not resolved. Crispin Blunt, former chairman of the Commons foreign affairs select committee, is canvassing support among MPs for an early day motion expressing no confidence in Mr Bercow. 

He hopes to table the motion when parliament returns on Tuesday, after the Easter recess. This would not in itself force the Speaker out, but it could embarrass him, especially if it were signed by a large number of MPs. Mr Blunt is hoping to garner sufficient support to make Mr Bercow’s position untenable.

Brexiteers and senior ministers believe that the Speaker is using his position to frustrate attempts to get the prime minister’s Brexit deal through parliament….

…Mr Blunt has written to all Conservative MPs telling them that he will only table the motion if it is supported by a minimum of 100 of the 650 MPs. In his letter Mr Blunt said: “I have support from frontbenchers and expect this to be seen as a house matter.”

I think is a further example of some Leavers focussing on the wrong things and making another huge mistake. Let us assume Bercow is ousted soon, who will replace him?

We’re consistently told by many Leavers that the Commons is dominated Remainers, so it is likely the next Speaker will likely to be someone who backed Remain so we might see another Speaker who is perceived to anti Brexit.

Rather than belittle Bercow on Brexit Crispin Blunt and others really wanted to oust Bercow they might be better off focussing on the bullying allegations swirling around Bercow. Last December the Leavers tried to oust Mrs May as Tory leader and only left her stronger for a year, they could repeat that mistake with Bercow, once again they won’t have the numbers to oust their target.

A few bookies have markets up on who will be Bercow’s successor as Speaker but as far as I can see there’s no markets up on Bercow’s exit date or will Bercow be Speaker on a certain date.

The latter markets have been profitable in the past as critics of Bercow have been all heat and no light. As for the betting on who will be Bercow’s successor I’m quite content with my position on backing Lindsay Hoyle and Harriet Harman.



You can’t blame Bercow for enforcing what is a sensible precedent

Tuesday, March 19th, 2019

The real problem is the totally divided Tory Party

The speaker, John Bercow, as you’d expect, gets a lot of stick from the right wing press this morning following his ruling yesterday stopping the tabling of the government motion for a third time.

Sure a consequence of it is that it might make Brexit happening a tad less likely and that might be what Mr Bercow himself  wants. If he did go wrong, I’d suggest, it was not blocking last week’s vote which also fell foul of the precedent.

Most bodies that I’ve sat on or have been associated with over the years have had rules similar to that which Bercow is trying to enforce. Once something has been decided then you can’t go on repeatedly putting it forward within a specific timescale.

The real problem is that the Conservative Party remains totally divided on the issue of Europe a fault line that has existed for several decades. Whoever had been the Tory leader and prime minister at this point was going to find it very difficult securing the agreement of the Commons particularly given the fact that the party is in a minority.

I don’t think that Mrs May is helped by her rigidity and her apparent lack of ability to sell things. But you have to admire her resilience.

In many ways the developments over the past few months on Brexit have totally justified her decision two years ago to seek to increase the party’s majority by calling an early election. She foresaw then that there weren’t the numbers, given the party splits, to get things through the Commons. The only problem was that when it came to voting in June 2017 she lost seats rather than gained them.

Where do we go from here? My guess is that they’ll be trying to find a way of getting it before the House again in a manner that Bercow will accept. It might just be the fact that because Brexit has appeared in jeopardy over the past 24 hours could make a third vote, if it happens, more likely to produce the outcome that Mrs May seeks.

Mike Smithson


Bercow’s ruling adds to the Brexit uncertainty

Monday, March 18th, 2019

It’s looking more like TMay will have to ask for more time

So another day and more uncertainty over what is going to happen over brexit just 11 days away from the March 29th article 50 deadline. The Commons speaker, John Bercow, ruled in the house this afternoon that the government could not bring the deal plan back to the house for a further vote. He was applying the the rule that in any one session The Commons can only make a decision once.

This was very much a surprise and makes it more difficult for Theresa May who had been hoping that she might just get enough MPs to support her deal in vote intended to take place tomorrow. My guess is that some smart wordsmith with be trying to rephrase the motion that’s been rejected twice in a form that has the same effect but is different. It would be then be back in Bercow’s court.

A problem for ministers is that there has been bad blood between the Tories and the Speaker going back to the coalition years.

Unless a procedure fix can be found then the next stage is surely going to be the government having to ask Brussels for an extension to the article 50 period. The problem here is that it is thought that ministers would have to state a reason. The other 27 Nations within the EU are hardly going to grant the request unless they can see what it is for.

Those hoping for another referendum have been heartened by the news and on Betfair it is now a 28% chance that such an event will take place this year.

Mike Smithson


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


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


As if things weren’t complicated enough

Monday, December 3rd, 2018


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


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