The next speaker will have to rebuild parliament’s reputationby Chris White / October 29, 2019 / Leave a comment
Amid all the excitement of whether the country will have its third election in four years, another critical election will happen in parliament that seems to be attracting less notice. A new speaker will be chosen by MPs on Monday next week (if MPs choose a general election date of 12th December).
Speaker Bercow’s influence on the Commons over his ten-year tenure has been substantial. There is no doubt that he has been a champion of backbenchers against the executive. He has dramatically increased the number of urgent questions, of which there have been over 600 in the last ten years, when his predecessor allowed just 42 between 2004 and 2009. He lengthened Prime Minister’s Questions and insisted that every backbencher who wanted to question ministers in debates and questions could do so, even if they went over the “normal time.” He also pushed through a new Education Centre on Victoria Tower Gardens, and created a crèche at 1 Parliament Street for the children of those who work on the parliamentary estate.
However, he has also been a divisive figure, notably for the way he seems to treat members of his former party with open contempt, often making fun of Conservative MPs’ names such as drawing out Andrew Selous’s surname when calling him. Many Conservatives also have justifiable concerns about his partiality in decision-making, pointing to his cavalier approach to interpreting Standing Orders. This culminated in him allowing an amendment by Dominic Grieve to the Business Motion for the first “meaningful vote” back in January this year, which was clearly contrary to procedural convention. Charles Walker, the widely respected Chair of the Procedure Committee, wrote to him the same month asking for an explanation of his ruling, and the speaker never bothered to reply despite the ambiguity the ruling has created. He also allowed the emergency debate procedure under Standing Order 24 to be used to debate a substantive motion, something that had never previously been done. There is still considerable disquiet amongst Commons clerks over the impact of both of these decisions.
Bercow has also been at the centre of several serious bullying allegations, with former staff members accusing him on Newsnight of “over-the-top anger.” The Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme opened last week and will probe historic allegations, but his resignation and departure from the Commons will prevent action being taken.
On Monday, MPs will have the opportunity to choose a new arbiter of the rules, through an unusual and somewhat exhaustive…