John Bercow MP

15 May 2013 19:36:32

114 Tory MPs vote for the Baron amendment

By Peter Hoskin
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130 MPs voted in favour of John Baron's amendment expressing regret at the absence of an EU Referendum Bill in the Queen's speech. 277 voted against.

Peter Bone, who was a teller for those supporting the amendment, has confirmed that 114 of the 130 were Tory MPs. That exceeds the 100 that Philip Hollobone was anticipating, and it far exceeds the 60 or so that some in Government were talking about. There were also 12 Labour MPs, 4 DUP and one Lib Dem.

Although it's not strictly a rebellion – thanks to the oddities listed by Andrew Sparrow here – it's still rather embarrassing for David Cameron. It seems that the draft EU Referendum Bill rushed out yesterday did very little to sway hearts and ayes. Many of his MPs don't think he's doing enough to reassure the public of his intentions.

And the whipping operation? According to Zac Goldsmith, this was a truly free vote with "no pressure from the Whips", so may help absolve them. But it doesn't shake the fact that Team Cameron won't be thrilled with tonight's outcome – or, more exactly, with this whole farrago in the first place.

Anyway, here's the list of the 114 Tory MPs who supported the amendment:

Continue reading "114 Tory MPs vote for the Baron amendment" »

7 Mar 2013 09:57:44

The No Leaking Stories Group?

By Paul Goodman
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Screen shot 2013-03-07 at 09.33.24"Well, gentlemen, I see we have a good gathering tonight," said side-burned Forth, like a teddy boy relishing a dust-up with some mods at the local disco. "I think we ought to have a discussion of what this group believes in.  I must say I always thought we believed in lower taxes, locking up more criminals and standing up for Britain. But now I am told we stand for something called REACHING OUT! He shrieked the words with melodramatic disgust."

This morning's account in the Times (£) of a "dinner table plot to unseat the coalition" turns out to be the second subtantial leak from the No Turning Back Group - the right-of-party-centre backbench dining club of Conservative MPs of which I was once a member.  The first is chronicled in loving detail in Simon Walters's romp, Tory Wars, and I quote from the words of the late, great Eric Forth - whose attack on Michael Portillo opens the account. (It followed Portillo's speech to the Conservative Conference in 2000.)

Key quotes:

  • Portillo: "Presumably you want homosexuals and lesbians to vote for us? We don't want to say to them: "We don't like you, we don't want your vote."
  • Owen Paterson: "You are obsessed by a few issues which are of great interest to the metropolitan elite, but they are of no concern to most of our members who don't live in London."
  • Alan Duncan: "Michael is right. We have got to appeal to other groups such as ethnic minorities."
  • John Bercow: "If we give the impression that we are bigoted about gays or people of other races, then we will lose floating votes too."
  • "Redwood, relishing the sight of his right-wing adversary [Portillo] being roasted on the spit, gave it another turn. 'We are not bigots. We simply don't want to make these issues a big part of Conservative policies.' "
  • "David Davis, who arrived late, sat back and enjoyed the spectacle of his best friend Forth making a fool of Portillo, whom he had long held in contempt."

Over ten years on, how fortunate we are that these contentious issues have been put to rest!

A word on the Times's story and the NTB itself. The Times refers to some MPs “chuntering” about a leadership contest.  If that's all that took place, what took place wasn't a "plot" - so the headline is a bit out of proportion.  The Times mentions the idea of a "mandate referendum" to precede the In-Out one to which David Cameron is committed.  There's no great mystery about whose idea that is.  It's Davis's.  We know that because...he set it out publicly at a ConservativeHome conference last autumn.

Finally, note the names quoted in the Times story: Davis, Redwood, Liam Fox, Bernard Jenkin. Chris Grayling.  These names are those of very senior MPs.  The report also says: "it is understood that about a dozen MPs were present".  If that's right, it sounds like a gathering consisting almost entirely of senior and older MPs.  I wonder if the NTB is replenishing its membership.  At any rate, no member of the 2010 intake, which now constitutes half the Parliamentary Party, is quoted in the story.

When I was a member of the NTB in the last Parliament, about 20 or so MPs would turn up regularly, including John Baron, Mark Harper, Jonathan Djanogly, Andrew Turner, and Angela Watkinson.  Clubs of Tory MPs spring up all the time - for example, the Free Enterprise Group, which gave very public advice to Osborne earlier this week - and the more established ones must renew themselves to stay at the cutting edge.  One thing's certain: the NTB will this morning be undertaking a leak enquiry. 

8 Nov 2012 16:02:16

Mr Speaker's war against Anna Soubry

By Matthew Barrett
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One of the ways in which John Bercow annoys Conservatives is his enthusiasm for castigating backbench Tory MPs in front of the House. His critics would concede that he often has valid grounds for intervening in principle, but take issue with the strength of his criticism, and the fact that he so often interrupts the flow of debate in order to make his points.

Soubry AnnaA particularly severe example of this kind of strong intervention came yesterday when Mr Bercow felt the need to reprimand Anna Soubry, a junior Minister at the Department of Health, not once, not twice, but thrice. Mr Bercow's interventions stretched across more than one debate - he decided to name Soubry during PMQs and during a health debate. It's perhaps worth noting that Soubry was Simon Burns' (with whom Mr Speaker has clashed a number of times) PPS, and still often sits near him during PMQs.

The first intervention, during PMQs, went as follows:

"Ms Harman: The Deputy Prime Minister’s answer has shown that he is completely out of touch, because the reality is that many part-time working parents are having to give up their jobs because of the cuts in tax credit, and having instead to be on benefits. I asked him about the child care element of the tax credit, and he has not answered. Why will he not admit that the cut he voted for has cost families £500, and 44,000 families are losing out? If that was not bad enough, the Government are cutting £1 billion from Sure Start. In his e-mail, he said he would reveal—[ Interruption. ]

Mr Speaker: Order. The junior Minister in the back row—the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry)—thinks her views are relevant, but we are not interested. [ Interruption. ] Order. I do not want heckling. I want the question to be heard, and it will be heard with courtesy. If the session has to be extended for that to happen, so be it."

Continue reading "Mr Speaker's war against Anna Soubry" »

14 Aug 2012 15:38:28

Speaker Bercow expresses "sadness" for his "embittered" and "resentful" Parliamentary critics

By Matthew Barrett
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Bercow John squawkingThat John Bercow is the Speaker is a good thing for two important reasons.

Firstly, out of the two final candidates in the Speakership election during the last election, Bercow is the man with the more stern manner when dealing with Parliamentarians misbehaving. Sir George Young, a good man, and an effective Leader of the House, only conjures a hint of temper loss when made to sit through weeks of provocation from his Labour opposite number. I don't think Sir George would have been able to produce the near-anger Speakers occasionally have to. Admittedly, Speaker Bercow has reduced the impact of the Speaker intervening in debates by intervening too often, and sometimes with trivial complaints - but he nevertheless has the ability to silence the House when necessary.

Secondly, Bercow holds Ministers to account. He has made them answer far more urgent questions, and made them explain their actions far more fully than I remember under Michael Martin and Labour. That's the Speaker's job, and we should welcome it regardless of the party of government. 

However, there are plenty of legitimate criticisms to make of Speaker Bercow - for example, his aforementioned cheapening of interventions, and his frequent assertions that "the public doesn't like" MPs to have robust debates in the Commons. There is also Rob Wilson MP's research published earlier this year, which showed that 62% of the Speaker's interruptions are against Conservative MPs, despite only 47% of MPs being Tory. It's not wise, therefore, for the Speaker to use drastic and unkind adjectives to describe those who do not like him. Appearing on the radio this afternoon, Bercow said:

"I pride myself on being courteous to people, and trying to fashion good relations. Why do some like me and others not? To be frank there are issues of personality. ... [but] Sometimes people who perhaps haven’t achieved what they want to achieve in their political career can display some sign of resentment – not necessarily because they themselves wanted to be Speaker, because they feel ‘well, my talents haven’t been recognised. That fellow was a rather free-wheeling, independent minded’ – perhaps even, in their minds, disloyal – ‘backbench member, and suddenly he pops up as speaker. And we don’t like it.’"

Continue reading "Speaker Bercow expresses "sadness" for his "embittered" and "resentful" Parliamentary critics" »

28 Feb 2012 08:24:51

Bercow corrects Michael Gove's "Cymryphobia" as "welshed" joins the list of unparliamentary language

By Tim Montgomerie
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Not for the first time the Speaker, John Bercow, didn't miss an opportunity, yesterday, to rebuke the Education Secretary, Michael Gove.

Answering a question from Labour MP Tristram Hunt, Mr Gove said:

"The hon. Gentleman invited me to the potteries and I welshed on the deal. I would love to come to Stoke, because I am a huge fan of that city and its contribution to our industrial heritage, and of the way in which he has championed its role as a model both of how we can improve education and of urban regeneration."

Mr Bercow jumped to his feet to protect the feelings of the Welsh: "I think that the Secretary of State meant “reneged”," said the Speaker, "rather than “welshed”."

According to 'The Free Dictionary' "welshed" means "to swindle a person by not paying a debt or wager." or "to fail to fulfill an obligation". Apparently some of the great people of Wales are offended by this term - often written "welched" (as I did on Twitter, on Sunday).

Later in Education Questions Mr Gove thanks John Bercow for the correction:

"May I also thank you, Mr Speaker, for correcting my vocab earlier? I would hate to be thought guilty of Cymryphobia, especially as someone married to a Welsh girl."

"We are very grateful to the Secretary of State for that," replied Mr Speaker, "for his knowledge and, indeed, for his pronunciation."

Glad we sorted that out.

4 Feb 2012 08:15:57

John 'Centre-of-Attention' Bercow speaks four times as much as Michael Martin and Betty Boothroyd

By Tim Montgomerie
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In today's Independent Simon Carr examines the Speaker's verbosity:

"Hansard shows [Bercow] speaks 700 and 800 words in a day's sitting. Michael Martin before him spoke 100 to 200, as did Betty Boothroyd. The other Thursday at Business Questions, Mr Bercow kept dozens of MPs at attention in front of him while he spoke a total of 93 words making an appeal for brevity. In recent days, to answer John Cryer's Point of Order asking if the PM had contacted the Speaker to make a statement, he took 202 words (the answer is essentially one word). To Jeremy Corbyn's request for a longer debate on Iran, he said: "That is not a matter for the Chair", but took 203 words to say it. And four points of order (from Paul Flynn, David Winnick, Brian Donohoe and Mark Pritchard) in one combined reply on the subject of the PM calling Denis Skinner a "dinosaur"? A mammoth 387 words."

He also pokes fun at what he says. Are the Speaker's interventions generated by an out-of-control 19th century software program, he asks? Here's an example:

"Secondly, moderately vivid imagination though I possess, a fact to which I made reference in responding to someone last week, I really cannot imagine a colleague whom it is more impolitic or foolish to fail timeously to answer than the honourable gentleman."

Read the whole piece.

> Recent research showed that 62% of Bercow's interruptions are against Conservative MPs but only 47% of MPs are Tory.

1 Jan 2012 09:01:58

62% of Bercow's interruptions are against Conservative MPs but only 47% of MPs are Tory

By Tim Montgomerie
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I'm with Douglas Carswell in believing that John Bercow has been good for the power of backbenchers versus the executive but I also do think he seeks too much attention. His constant Ratner-like interventions at Prime Minister's Question Time - telling MPs that the public doesn't like their behaviour - add up to something close to parliamentary self-flagellation. Does he ever consider that his constant attacks on MPs' behaviour are counter-productive? There is also the issue of his alleged unfairness to Conservative MPs. Elevated to the Speaker's chair on a Labour bloc vote in the last parliament Tory MPs think he is a partial umpire. Tory MP Rob Wilson has been number crunching and has calculated that Bercow IS much likelier to intervene against a Conservative MP than a Labour MP. The graphic below summarises his findings:


Commenting on his research Mr Wilson said:

“I am not sure these statistics can be waved away by saying the Conservatives do not behave as well in the Chamber as other parties. Being the largest Party in the Chamber does not explain why there is such a big differential in percentage between a Party MPs elected and those chastised.  After all, in the Chamber each side (Government and Opposition) gets an equal chance to have its say because the Speaker rotates between the two sides in both Ministerial Questions and debates. These figures are therefore very powerful and confirm a trend that is well set in this Parliament.  We should all reflect carefully on their implications as they should provide the Speaker, MPs and the public with valuable food for thought.  I am certainly concerned about their implications, but I leave it to the public and Members of Parliament to consider them and draw their own conclusions.”

21 Dec 2011 07:15:30

Crass or rather splendid?: Merry Christmas from John and Sally Bercow

By Joseph Willits 
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It would probably be fair to say that anything the Speaker and his wife Sally do, will attract criticism from somewhere. The latest in a long list of 'what's wrong with the Bercow's' is a Christmas card, originally a Sun cartoon by Andy Davey.

The image, bought by the Bercows for £300, with the money going to charity, shows a red-faced order shouting Speaker berating his wife Sally as she answers the doors to paparazzi - making light of her time on Celebrity Big Brother where she became best friends with Paddy Doherty of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding fame. John Bercow apparently wasn't very happy about her Big Brother appearance.

Writing in the Mail, Kirsty Walker describes the Christmas card as a "self-deprecating image in the style of an old-style saucy seaside postcard", and her article uses comments from Tory MP Rob Wilson, an outspoken critic of the Bercows, who says the "image shows that his wife clearly has a single minded view of herself."

Continue reading "Crass or rather splendid?: Merry Christmas from John and Sally Bercow " »

4 Dec 2011 07:47:23

MPs set to give the Speaker powers to punish ministers who leak policy announcements to the media

By Tim Montgomerie
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The Backbench Business Committee has scheduled two motions for tomorrow. One concerns extradition procedures and Dom Raab MP writes about this issue for ConHome this morning. The second motion is "relating to Ministerial statements to Parliament" and will be proposed by Philip Hollobone.

The innocuous sounding motion relates to the tendency of ministers to tell the press about major policy announcements before they tell the House of Commons. The motion will give the House the power to punish such ministers. Last week's extensively pre-briefed Autumn Statement was the latest high profile example of this longstanding phenomenon. The Speaker, John Bercow, expressed his displeasure last Wednesday. Tory MP Julian Lewis asked why the Speaker had allowed ninety-six questions to George Osborne after he had given his Autumn Statement. This was Mr Speaker's amusing reply:

"I am always keen to ensure that as many Back-Bench Members as possible should have the opportunity to question Ministers of the Crown. Secondly, as the House will be conscious, I am insistent that statements of policy should first be made to the House of Commons, not outside it. There have been notable breaches of that established protocol and they are a source of concern. To the hon. Gentleman, I say explicitly that yesterday I was particularly keen to ensure a full airing of the issues, not least because I wished to hear whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer had anything to say in the Chamber that he had not already said in the media. I hope that that response to his point of order satisfies the hon. Gentleman’s curiosity."

Hollobone_phillipInterviewed on Friday night's Today in Parliament programme Mr Hollobone said the situation has been getting worse and that the Coalition was now "routinely leaking" policy announcements to the media. The issue, he told the BBC's Mark D'Arcy, was whether the House of Commons is at the centre of the nation's political life or that it becomes a "sideshow".

Mt Hollobone is suggesting that if policies are leaked in future a complaint could be made to the Speaker and the Speaker would then decide on an appropriate sanction. That sanction might include calling the minister to the bar of the Commons to account for his/her behaviour and that of their department or, ultimately, referral to the Standards and Privileges Committee could be considered. The S&PC has "unlimited powers of punishment" including powers to suspend members and dock offending MPs' pay. Mr Hollobone hopes that matters would never come to that level but he is confident that his motion will pass tomorrow. 

> You can listen to Mr Hollobone's short interview here, beginning at about 16 minutes 30 seconds into the programme.

27 Aug 2011 14:20:21

How many members of the public have complained about MPs' behaviour in the House - hundreds? Thousands?

By Matthew Barrett
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Last month we covered the findings of a survey which showed Speaker Bercow's oft-repeated complaint (as shown in the video segment above) about "the public" not liking robust debate in the House of Commons, was unsupported by public opinion. 

But a survey is only a survey, and the wording - "Robust exchanges in the House of Commons are an important part of our democracy" Agree/Disagree - was not perfect. 

Continue reading "How many members of the public have complained about MPs' behaviour in the House - hundreds? Thousands?" »

11 Aug 2011 13:26:39

Labour MP Rob Flello speaks in the Commons without a jacket

By Matthew Barrett
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RobFlelloShirt3 I don't seek to trivialise the debate, or the subject of debate that Parliament was recalled for today. 

However, as well as the content of today's debate, there was an important procedural/sartorial development. 

Rob Flello, the Labour Member for Stoke-on-Trent South, was allowed to speak in the Chamber without a jacket. 

Continue reading "Labour MP Rob Flello speaks in the Commons without a jacket" »

18 Jul 2011 15:28:04

Speaker Bercow vs. Public Opinion

By Matthew Barrett
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A variation of the segment of the above video, in which Speaker John Bercow tells a noisy chamber that "the public doesn't like it", is a regular occurrence at Prime Minister's Questions.

Continue reading "Speaker Bercow vs. Public Opinion" »

17 Jul 2011 09:03:49

Tory MPs twice as likely to be "Bollocked By Bercow" than Labour MPs

By Tim Montgomerie
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Episodes like John Bercow's meanness towards Tim Loughton, Michael Gove and the Government Chief Whip fuel Tory suspicions that the Commons Speaker is biased against Conservatives.

Rob Wilson - the Conservative backbencher who recently described the Speaker as "partisan" and "divisive" - has turned anecdote into evidence by totting up the number of times Mr Bercow has shouted "Order!" at a Conservative MP and the number of times he has done so at a Labour MP. The answers show a tendency to admonish Conservative MPs twice as often as Labour MPs:


Michael Gove is John Bercow's top target. He's been targeted EIGHTEEN times by The Speaker. Cameron has been "Bollocked By Bercow" twelve times. I say "Bollocked By Bercow" because The Sunday Times reports that "Tory whips are thinking about awarding tongue-in-cheek medals inscribed “BBB”, meaning “bollocked by Bercow”."

More in the newspaper (£).

13 Jul 2011 15:00:13

PMQs: Speaker Bercow vs. Minister Loughton

By Matthew Barrett
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One of the moments of excitement from today's Prime Minister's Questions was a clash between John Bercow and Childrens Minister Tim Loughton, which appears to be a further installment in an ongoing series of exchanges between the two .

As can be seen from the video above, an angry and ruffled Speaker Bercow singled out Loughton, telling him to "calm down" and "behave like an adult". Bercow then said if Loughton couldn't comply, he should "leave the Chamber, get out, we'll manage without you."

Very shortly after, the Speaker stopped proceedings again, telling Loughton "No, it's not funny, only in your mind, Mr Loughton, is it funny. It's not funny at all, it's disgraceful."

Mr Loughton has since tweeted:


6 Jul 2011 08:06:30

Tory MP Rob Wilson puts his head above the parapet with attack on "partisan" and "divisive" Bercow

By Tim Montgomerie
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Bercow Smiling

Conservative MP Rob Wilson has launched a direct attack on the Speaker, John Bercow. He hasn't done it on the floor of the House but on the pages of The Daily Telegraph.

He writes that Bercow "has emerged as a partisan, divisive figure, and one far too full of his own importance."

As evidence of partrisanship Mr Wilson argues that "he constantly interrupts and chastises Conservative MPs, while giving generous leeway to Labour opponents." He also cites last week's PMQs when, twice, the Speaker cut Cameron off in midflow.

Continue reading "Tory MP Rob Wilson puts his head above the parapet with attack on "partisan" and "divisive" Bercow" »