John Bercow MP

30 Mar 2011 06:17:00

Conservative MPs pay tribute to Lord Tebbit on his 80th birthday

By Jonathan Isaby

Lord Tebbit 2010 cheerful It was remiss of me not to realise that yesterday was the 80th birthday of Lord Tebbit as I would have been delighted to note it in ConHome's Gazette.

However, this landmark in the life of the former Cabinet Minister did not escape the notice of several Conservative MPs, resulting in the following somewhat tenuous points of order in the Commons yesterday:

Dr Julian Lewis: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. There are certain politicians who arouse very strong feelings both in favour and against their political initiatives. One such politician is Lord Tebbit. I wonder whether there is any way within the rules of order that we may place on the record our appreciation of his long political career on this his 80th birthday, noting that he has gone from bovver boy to blogger in successive generations.

Mr Edward Leigh: Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Although you are impeccably impartial, I know that deep in your heart there still lurks a little Tory. You will know the love and esteem in which Lord Tebbit is held on these Benches. May we not have some suitable memorial erected to him — perhaps a bicycle draped in the Union flag and carved in solid British oak?

Mr Speaker: The House should hold to the phrase “impeccably impartial”. I say to the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) that the short answer to his question whether that could be done within the rules of order is no. However, he and the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) have found a disorderly but very far from disagreeable way to pay tribute to their illustrious colleague. I think that I can safely say that the remarks of both hon. Gentlemen will be appreciated by the noble Lord’s admirers and detractors in this House, the other place and around the country on the occasion of his 80th birthday.

9 Mar 2011 07:11:36

Simon Burns's feud with the Speaker eases after good-humoured exchanges in the Commons

By Jonathan Isaby

Picture 20 Last summer Health minister Simon Burns was widely reported to have made his view about Speaker Bercow clear in a particularly colourful way.

But yesterday at Health questions, after a Labour MP asked a question which did not seem to be in order, the following exchange took place:

Mr Burns: I am a bit confused, Mr Speaker, as the question is about MRSA and C. difficile, and I did not hear any specific question from the hon. Gentleman on that subject.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the Minister of State. My sense is that the hon. Member for Copeland (Mr Reed) is seeking a meeting. The Minister is perfectly at liberty to say more if he wishes, or if he does not think it is worth it, he does not have to do so.

Mr Burns: Mr Speaker, you are a wise owl to be able to interpret what Opposition Members are thinking but may not be saying. If the hon. Gentleman has concerns along the lines that he mentioned, I or one of my ministerial colleagues would be more than happy to meet him.

Mr Speaker: Wise owl is the kindest description that the hon. Gentleman has ever offered of me. I shall take it that he means it. It's the best I'll get.

7 Feb 2011 20:55:29

John Bercow rebukes Michael Gove for accusing Andy Burnham of "rank hypocrisy"

Tim Montgomerie

According to the officlal UK Parliament website, "unparliamentary language" is defined as follows...

"Unparliamentary language breaks the rules of politeness in the House of Commons Chamber. Part of the Speaker's role is to ensure that MPs do not use insulting or rude language and do not accuse each other of lying, being drunk or misrepresenting each other's words. Words to which objection has been taken by the Speaker over the years include blackguard, coward, git, guttersnipe, hooligan, rat, swine, stoolpigeon and traitor. The Speaker will direct an MP who has used unparliamentary language to withdraw it. Refusal to withdraw a comment might lead to an MP being disciplined. MPs sometimes use considerable ingenuity to get around the rules; for example Winston Churchill famously used the phrase "terminological inexactitude" to mean "lie"."

Gove Looking Right Earlier today Michael Gove accused the Shadow Education Secretary, Andy Burnham, of "rank hypocrisy". The Speaker, John Bercow - who constantly rebukes Mr Gove for the smallest of reasons - has since ruled that this was unacceptable language and Mr Gove will have to apologise to the House.

Mr Burnham had attacked Michael Gove's plan for an English Baccalaureate of core subjects at GCSE:

"Are you really saying to young people and employers today that dead languages are more important than business studies, engineering, ICT, music and RE?

Gove replied:

"I am surprised you have the brass neck to stand here and say working-class children shouldn't study modern foreign languages, shouldn't study science, shouldn't study history and shouldn't study geography. If it is good enough for you, why shouldn't it be good enough for the likes of working class children elsewhere? Why are you pulling up the draw bridge on social mobility?... It's rank hypocrisy."

It was brilliantly delivered and exactly the sort of passion we need to see from our politicians.

If Mr Bercow really wants to see parliament respected he won't wrap debate in cotton wool... and as for unparliamentary behaviour, he should look closer to home.

17 Jan 2011 07:58:26

The John Bercow I knew

By Paul Goodman

Screen shot 2011-01-16 at 15.53.12 My heart isn't really in being unpleasant about John Bercow, although I confess that my tongue's been so from time to time.  Perhaps I'm too lily-livered - or kind-hearted, or bone idle to knuckle down to the task.  Or maybe there's too much competition.  Or perhaps I hold back because he did me a very good turn, not all that long ago.  But with Mark Pritchard and these T-shirts and those weekend articles - see here, here and here, for example, it's time to consider Mr Speaker.  I can't beat the quality of the jokes, but will try at least to match that of the observations.

I first saw Bercow in 1982.  When I say that I saw him, I mean that there was a small disturbance in the group of Conservative students who were grilling me at the time, and a voice began to harangue me in seventeenth-century English.  When I looked closer I saw in the midst of the throng what appeared to be Demosthenes recast as a spider monkey.  Whatever else one might think of this midget orator he clearly possessed almost inexhaustable eloquence and very right-wing views.  He continued to ascend the Federation of Conservative Students like a ladder before, like the man at end of the Tractatus, casting it aside.

This sums it up, at least for me.  Bercow was of the right and on the rise, not necessarily in that order.  He was also in the right place at the right time.  He dabbled in the City and did a bit of PR, but was essentially an embryo politician.  Being so, he lost no time in serving as a special adviser to two startlingly different Cabinet Ministers, Virginia Bottomley and Jonathan Aitken.  He soon parachuted into the safe seat of Buckingham, almost literally - arriving by helicopter, in order to dash between one selection and another, a reminder that he was very much in demand, among Party members at any rate.

My point's this.  A great deal of ink's been spilled over why Bercow moved from near the far right of the Party to the very end of its left: crack teams of psychiatrists have been commissioned to explore size, sex, Sally and anti-semitism, sometimes all at once.  To borrow a phrase from the Speaker himself, these are not matters for me.  Instead, I'll stick to politics and hazard a guess: Bercow will have wanted, when he entered the Commons, to lead the Party.  OK, so everyone does, with the exception of Douglas Carswell, Richard Shepherd and George Osborne, no, that last bit's just to check that you're still reading.

Furthermore, Bercow will have expected, at some level, to do so.  This isn't as far-fetched as it may now sound.  In 1997, the requirement that Conservative leaders had to be easy on the eye and accessible to the voters was less marked.  Bercow was a dazzling speaker - his style seemed less dated - wowed the activists, and got up Labour's nose.  He made the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Chief Secretary with due speed.  Then something went wrong.  I don't know what it was.  But, plainly, he didn't see eye to eye with Michael Howard (no heightist slight intended).  He was demoted to Work and Pensions within a year.

Continue reading "The John Bercow I knew" »

15 Jan 2011 18:22:04

The second T-shirt of the week featuring John Bercow

Screen shot 2011-01-15 at 18.14.57 by Paul Goodman

Not convinced that demand will be as high as for it as for the original.

Pretty certain that it'll be lower among our readers.

Unlikely to be worn by Mark Pritchard MP (or by the Conservative Chief Whip).

Still, here it is on the right, courtesy of the ever-enterprising Jonathan Sheppard of Tory Radio.

9 Sep 2010 07:23:43

Matthew Elliott of the TaxPayers' Alliance infiltrates the House of Commons chamber

By Jonathan Isaby

An amusing slip of the tongue from Commons Speaker John Bercow yesterday.

During questions to Treasury Minister David Gauke about the errors made at HMRC on millions of people's tax bills, the Speaker decided to call the new Conservative MP for West Suffolk - except he mixed him up with the founder of the TaxPayers' Alliance:

"I call Matthew Elliott. I mean Matthew Hancock. Tax was on my mind."

The minister, David Gauke, responded thus:

"My blood ran slightly cold for a moment when I thought that the TaxPayers' Alliance had managed to get in here."

I daresay it would be no bad thing.

8 Sep 2010 12:45:16

John Bercow allows debate on Andy Coulson and News of the World tomorrow

By Tim Montgomerie

The mass Labour vote for the MP for Buckingham to become Speaker is paying dividends.

The right thing to do was not to debate the matter until the Metropolitan Police had finished their inquiries.

5 Jul 2010 08:44:16

John Bercow hints at cutting the number of questions that the Leader of the Opposition can ask at PMQs

Within a wide-ranging interview with The Independent the Commons Speaker suggests that Prime Minister's Question Time needs reform:

"This is the most viewed of all the parliamentary events. Changing it would make the biggest impact, but while a lot else has changed this has not. It is far too noisy and needs to be conducted in a more civilised manner... Journalists love the cut and thrust, but the public detest it. We must not mistake media enthusiasm for a massive bust up with the views of the great mass of the public who don't like it".

In particular he recommends cutting the number of questions that the Leader of the Opposition can ask:

"Six questions are too much for the Leader of the Opposition. They end up taking a large number of minutes, say ten minutes out of 30, that is a third of the time gone".

Tim Montgomerie

18 May 2010 14:17:11

John Bercow re-elected Speaker without a division

The Commons will meet at 2.30pm to elect its Speaker and I will be covering it here.

2.35pm The Royal Commission is happening in the Lords chamber to mark the technical opening of the Parliament.

2.38pm The new Father of the House, Sir Peter Tapsell, has taken his seat as chairman of today's proceedings.

Picture 22
2.39pm The Yeoman Usher of the Black Rod seeks the presence of MPs in the Lords for the next part of the ceremonial. Note the presence of the Liberal Democrats on the front bench below the gangway on the Government side in the picture above.

2.41pm The ceremony continues in the Lords chamber...

2.47pm ...and after much hat-doffing, the MPs return to the Commons.

Picture 25
2.50pm John Bercow briefly addresses the chamber to say it would be an honour to be re-elected as Speaker, emphasising his desire to defend the rights of backbenchers to hold the Government to account.

2.52pm Labour MP Jim Sheridan raises a point of order relating to the legalities of the 55% threshold for dissolving the House which the Coaltion wants to introduce. Sir Peter says it is not a matter for him.

Picture 26
2.53pm Former Cabinet Sir Malcolm Rifkind rises to proposes that John Bercow take the chair. He says that he did not vote for John Bercow last year (preferring to support Sir George Young) but says that he has been impressed by his performance as Speaker over the last ten months. He says that Bercow has been fair to individual members; has used his power and authority with flexibility and humour; and recognised that the Speaker should be a champion of the backbenches. He has been "splendidly robust", says Sir Malcolm, and a "modern Speaker for a modern age".

2.59pm Sir Peter Tapsell puts the question. Some members object, but not enough that Sir Peter cannot conclude anything but "the Ayes have it".

Picture 28
3.01pm Speaker-elect Bercow thanks the House for re-electing him.

Picture 29
3.02pm Prime Minster David Cameron rises to congratulate him and for the fact that the Conservative inclined voters of Buckingham returned him to Parliament - and for the fact that the Conservative-inclined voters in St James ward in Westminster also returned Conservative councillors (ie not Mrs Bercow). He sends his wishes to Stephen Timms, the former minister who is recovering from the stabbing last week. In welcoming the many new members, Cameron points out that many MPs are now sitting next to members they have never sat next to before - relevant, given that Nick Clegg is beside him on the Government front bench.

3.06pm Further speeches follow from acting Opposition Leader, Harriet Harman; SNP parliamentary leader, Angus Robertson; ex-Home Secretary David Blunkett.

Jonathan Isaby

16 Mar 2010 17:04:36

John Bercow allows Dennis Skinner's question on Lord Ashcroft, denies Mark Pritchard's question on Unite

Fascinating blog from Paul Waugh over at the London Evening Standard.

Paul tells how the Speaker rebuked Theresa Villiers for questioning Labour's links to Unite, during an emergency state on the British Airways strike.

Worse, though, was his seemingly contradictory approach to questions from a Labour and a Tory MP.

He permitted a question from Labour's Dennis Skinner about Lord Ashcroft's donations to the Conservatives but ruled out of order a question from Tory Mark Pritchard about Unite union leaders trimming their own wages by way of example.

Paul Waugh has the full story, including growing signs that Tory MPs will not accept David Cameron's urging to stand behind The Speaker. Tory MPs were appalled last week, during PMQs, when Simon Burns was accused of being boring and boorish by Mr Bercow. "He hates Tories," one MP told ConservativeHome, "it's as simple as that."

Tim Montgomerie

19 Jan 2010 05:57:10

John Bercow calls for "national leadership" to Save General Election Night

SaveElectionNight graphic In his interview with Carolyn Quinn for The Westminster Hour earlier in the month, John Bercow ignalled his support for Thursday night election counts.

But after a Point of Order raised yesterday by Julian Lewis - highlighting the agreement of Harriet Harman and her Tory shadow, Sir George Young, at last week's business questions - the Speaker went further in his support for the Save General Election Night campaign.

Here's what Mr Bercow told the Commons:

Speaker Bercow 3 "For my own part, I am a passionate believer in instant, not slow motion, democracy. It seems to me that it is in the interests of the House and the country that the count should take place on the night, and there are two overwhelmingly compelling reasons why: first, I believe that there could be a threat to the security of the ballot if the count is delayed; and, secondly, it seems to me that on the day the election takes place, it should be possible for the count also to take place so that we get the result speedily.

"Frankly, it should not be beyond the wit and sagacity of humankind—or indeed of local authorities—to ensure that that happens. I politely suggest to the House that what is required is not a passive acceptance of the particular views of individual local authority chief executives, but rather an assertion of leadership nationally and politically, at a local level, to achieve what I sense the House is uniting in wishing to see."

Hear, hear to that. He is right that since the decision on timing of the count is currently written in statute as being entirely at the discretion of the Returning Officer (often the chief executive of the relevant local authority), it needs pressure to be exerted on a cross-party basis both at a local and national level to focus their minds..

Jonathan Isaby

8 Jan 2010 12:34:59

Speaker Bercow defends his wife's right to her own opinions - and backs the campaign to Save General Election Night

John Bercow interview Commons Speaker John Bercow has given a wide-ranging interview to Carolyn Quinn of The Westminster Hour, which will be broadcast on this Sunday's programme on Radio 4 at 10pm.

Here are some of the highlights, which have been released to the media in advance...

He says that his detractors should judge him on how he performs as Speaker:

“I started from the very straight forward premise that the best response to doubt, scepticism and outright criticism is not to engage in a war of words, but to show that I can do the job – to prove that I am competent; for it to be clear for all to see that I am fair.”

He is "cautiously optimistic" that he will remain Speaker after the election:

“I’m cautiously optimistic that I will stay in post. Of course, there is always gossip and chatter and tittle-tattle. Just as a minister has to focus on his or her departmental responsibilities, so as Speaker I have to focus on my responsibilities.”

He insists that his wife, a Labour council candidate, is perfectly entitled to her own views:

“It’s a very old-fashioned view that suggests that somehow the spouse of the Speaker is an appendage of the Speaker. I have a responsibility, Carolyn, to be absolutely impartial. That obligation applies to me. It certainly doesn’t apply to my wife. My wife isn’t my chattel and I think there will be thousands of people listening to your programme who will say, ‘Quite right. John Bercow’s got the job of Speaker, but what his wife as an independent person chooses to say or do is a completely different matter’.

"At the heart of the criticism of me here, there are two factors. First, some people are pursuing the old-fashioned, nasty and rather cowardly tactic of trying to get at me through my wife – it’s very low-grade stuff and I don’t attach any great significance to it. The second thing is I think there is a good deal of old-fashioned chauvinism. The notion that somehow my wife has got a duty either to agree with me or to say nothing. My wife is an independent person, she’s entitled to her own views. If she seeks to be a candidate, she’s perfectly entitled to be.”

He backs the Save General Election Night campaign's aim of Thursday night counts at the general election:

SaveElectionNight graphic “The idea that it should be put off to the following day seems to me to be a travesty. A general election is ordinarily a once in four or once in five year event. It should not frankly be beyond the wit or sagacity of local authorities round the country to ensure that they’ve got the staff in place that the votes can be counted on time and the result announced accordingly. I hope others will join me in making the case for instant democracy not slow motion democracy.“

He also expresses his view that the Commons should sit in September:

"In my view, the House of Commons should be sitting in September. Think of this year: we will have had a general election. There must be huge amounts of business. There will be a legislative programme, there is a global economic challenge, there is a war taking place in Afghanistan, there is a heightened threat of international terrorism. The public would regard it as bizarre if the House of Commons were to take the view that well, we don’t actually have business to justify being present in September.”

“Sometimes people say well, you can't really meet in September because it’s the conference season. Well, the party conferences are important, but the party conferences are conferences of voluntary organisations meeting, in a sense, for private purposes. The idea that that should trump the obligation to be present to scrutinise, to hold the Government to account is extraordinary."

Jonathan Isaby

1 Dec 2009 18:52:19

Speaker Bercow supports moving PMQs to Thursday - and perhaps re-instating it as a twice weekly fixture

Speaker Bercow 2 Last month it was reported that Shadow Leader of the House Sir George Young was keen to move Prime Minister's Question Time to Thursdays.

According to the Independent, the Commons Speaker, John Bercow, has not only backed that proposal, but suggested that it should perhaps be re-instated as twice-weekly fixture, as it was prior to 1997:

"The Commons Speaker, John Bercow, is pressing for Prime Minister’s Question Time to be moved from Wednesdays to Thursdays – or even to take place twice a week. Mr Bercow believes the changes would help boost interest in Parliament and increase the number of MPs who go into the Commons chamber.

"Mr Bercow argues that moving PMQs to Thursdays would bring the parliamentary week to a more dramatic end. He fears that staging PMQs on Wednesdays means the week’s events tail off after then, with many MPs leaving Westminster for their constituencies early on Thursdays."

Jonathan Isaby

5 Nov 2009 14:56:52

Speaker Bercow announces priority places in the public gallery for armed forces personnel

Speaker Bercow The Speaker, John Bercow, announced today that in future there would be six places in the House of Commons' public gallery reserved for serving personnel from the armed forces.

He told MPs:

"We owe a huge debt to those who serve in our armed forces. They will always be welcome in this place... I'm glad to say that we will ensure that up to six visiting serving members of the armed forces will always be found a place in the gallery whatever the other pressures may be."

And if more than six service personnel are visiting at the same time, the Guardian's Andrew Sparrow reports that "those who cannot get seats in the Commons gallery will be given a tour of the Palace of Westminster and the opportunity to sit in the public gallery in the House of Lords until a seat in the Commons gallery becomes available".

Update: Paul Waugh adds that Tory MP Philip Hollobone has asked the Speaker to consider using the little-used Members' Gallery for this purpose.

Jonathan Isaby

16 Oct 2009 08:01:52

MPs may soon get the opportunity to question Lord Mandelson and other ministers from the Upper House

It's been a very confident 24 hours for John Bercow. He rebuked the Defence Secretary yesterday for his "rank discourtesy" to the Commons for late publication of the Bernard Gray report.  This morning he is in the newspapers urging MPs to repay money owed under the Legg review.  Today he is making the ground on scrutiny of ministers in the Lords.

Mandelson Peter Sky This morning's Guardian reports that government ministers Lords Adonis and Mandelson may soon be subject to direct scrutiny from MPs if the new Speaker gets his way.

As a first step ministers from the Lords will appear before MPs in the debating chamber off the medieval Westminster Hall but Mr Bercow's eventual hope is for ministers from the Lords to sit alongside their ministerial colleagues on the Commons government frontbench to answer questions.

The Guardian reports that Lord Mandelson is "full of enthusiasm" for the planned changes while Lord Adonis wrote to the Speaker saying that he would be "very willing to oblige".

Procedures put in place now will likely be very relevant to a Tory government should it be elected next year.  David Cameron is expected to make a large number of appointments to the Lords and some of them will be senior ministers.  Former MP Lord Bates of Langbaurgh is one tipped for a major job in a Conservative administration.

Tim Montgomerie

> Speaker Bercow sets out a "Backbencher's Bill of Rights" to enhance the power of backbench MPs