John Bercow is a controversial Speaker. Is he just what parliament needs?by James Macintyre / July 20, 2011 / Leave a comment
Sally and John Bercow. He stresses they are not “joined at the hip”
The Speaker of the House of Commons is microwaving a spaghetti bolognese for lunch. Minutes earlier, he was chairing a boisterous session of prime minister’s questions, in which he rebuked David Cameron for failing to respond to the opposition leader. “Let us focus on an answer to the question, or we will move on,” he said, interrupting Cameron. “I call Mr Ed Miliband!”
We are in Speaker’s House, next to Big Ben, at the heart of the parliamentary estate, where John Bercow lives with his wife Sally and their three young children, aged three, five and seven. The Speaker and his wife sometimes entertain friends over sushi and drinks—although both are teetotal—in the lavishly decorated state rooms, before going up two floors to the family apartment. Their compact and modern living quarters are on the same floor as the Speaker’s researcher’s office. There is a bell in the hall, instructing you to ring once for staff and twice for the Speaker.
“It would be absurd to say it is ordinary living,” says Bercow. “It is ordinary living!” retorts his wife Sally, dressed in baggy sweater and leggings. She’s teasing him about how he knows she won’t make lunch for him. Suddenly, their cat (named Order), jumps onto the kitchen table. Then, attracted by Bercow’s perfect-pitch impersonations of Tory grandees, his three-year-old daughter Jemima walks in shyly. Asked what her daddy does, she bites her lip before saying: “He sits in the chair.”
It’s exactly two years since Bercow, a state-educated son of a taxi driver, and Conservative MP for Buckingham, became the 157th Commons Speaker in a secret ballot of all MPs. Bercow saw off nine other candidates, including George Young, Alan Haselhurst, Margaret Beckett and Ann Widdecombe. He was elected at a moment of crisis for parliament: in the wake of the expenses scandal which stripped all parties of some of their longest-serving MPs and provoked fury and disgust in voters.
Bercow, always ambitious, had his eye on the Speakership during Michael Martin’s troubled period in the chair. Martin, a former sheet-metal worker who became Labour MP for Glasgow Springburn and then Speaker in 2000, was seen by MPs as a cautious “shop steward” who failed to tackle the expenses scandal. Bercow’s pitch for the job was that the Commons needed radical reform of the…