He can be verbose and pompous, and his memoir is used to settle old scores. But the former speaker will be remembered for championing parliament in the face of an arrogant and incompetent executiveby Chris Mullin / March 2, 2020 / Leave a comment
It is not every day one finds oneself in agreement with Jacob Rees-Mogg. At the height of the Brexit crisis, a BBC interviewer invited him to denounce John Bercow. “I won’t do that,” he replied, “because I think he is a historically significant Speaker.”
For what it’s worth, so do I. In an age when politics and politicians in general are low in public esteem, he has done more than any other Speaker of recent times to increase the power of parliament to hold to account an over-mighty executive. Thanks to Bercow the average backbench MP is now better placed to challenge ministers than at any time in living memory. As he highlights in his new memoir, Unspeakable, he has also played an important part in encouraging parliament’s transition from a cosy, insular, self-satisfied gentlemen’s club to one that better reflects the people it is supposed to represent.
During my 23 years in parliament, I served under four Speakers—Jack Weatherill and Betty Boothroyd were universally respected and of undisputed integrity, but they were both in their way establishment figures unlikely to rock many boats. Michael Martin, born in the slums of Glasgow, was a decent man, but sadly not up to the job. Martin had the misfortune to be in the hot seat at the time of the parliamentary expenses meltdown, which led to his resignation. I overlapped with Bercow only in my final year, but it was apparent from the outset that he was cut from different cloth than his predecessors: relatively young, energetic, radical and outspoken. He was also loathed by many Tory MPs.
How did someone who enjoyed little support on his own side come to be elected to one of the highest offices in the land? After Martin’s resignation in 2009, the Tories went around saying it was their turn and the tribalists on the majority Labour side said: “OK, if you want a Tory, we’ll give you one,” and went out of their way to choose the candidate least palatable to their opponents. Bercow was resented because of his long and highly…