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Changing tradition of Speaker

Nick Robinson | 09:49 UK time, Tuesday, 23 June 2009

By tradition, Speakers, like royalty, are meant to be respected and revered for their office, even if the occupant does not command widespread support.

They are by tradition never criticised. The felling of Michael Martin put an end to all that though. And now one Tory, the MP Nadine Dorries, has described the election of the new Speaker as "a two-fingered salute to the British people and the last hurrah of a dying Labour government."

John Bercow

What is it then that makes so many Tories loathe (and that is the right word) John Bercow?

It is his extraordinary political journey which has made even observers of it feel travel sick: Moving from anti-immigrant Enoch Powell backer to Thatcherite fanatic and finally to occupant of Labour's big tent.

At every stage Mr Bercow spoke with the same apparent lack of self-doubt.

Those who can forgive the journey can often not forgive the style with which it was taken. One Tory, as I reported the other day, suggested that Mr Bercow would read the weather forecast or the phone book as if he was Henry V on the eve of Agincourt.

Another has suggested that he's the sort of referee who thinks the crowd has paid to see him.

Mr Bercow's spent almost a decade planning his run for Speaker. If he can convince the wider public that he is indeed the reform candidate; that he can be an ambassador for Parliament; that he can mark a break with the past, he will have nothing to fear from Conservatives. They will simply have to bite their lips and get used to him.

If on the other hand, like his predecessor, he is seen to stumble, I'm in little doubt that many Conservatives will try to remove him as Michael Martin was removed.

PS. I am interviewing Mr Bercow later today.


  • Comment number 1.

    He's the first Jewish speaker ever.
    His wife has turned from being a Conservative to a Labour Supporter.

    Say no mofre.

  • Comment number 2.

    Mr Bercow's speech was immaculate, but does anyone understand the references to Agincourt?

  • Comment number 3.

    He's the first Jewish speaker ever.
    His wife has turned from being a Conservative to a Labour Supporter.

    Say no mofre.


    if your'e trying to imply that he's left leaning i trhink you should read his biography again - he seems more like a weathercock politician - changing his stance with the political wind.

    I think he probably got in because once they got down to 2 candidates the tories realised they did'nt want another public schoolboy in a prominent position.

    As for the agincourt reference, perhaps his reforms include plans for a badly supplied, planned and equipped, but ultimately successful invasion of france....

  • Comment number 4.

    Much is being written about Bercow today and not much is polite. You have to ask yourself why?

    It seems MPs will never learn. They elected someone who may well bring the House into more disrepute than disgraced speaker Martin.

    Voters have been treated with contempt as a token Tory with form on the expenses scandal was elected as what many see as a government prop and to get one over on Cameron.

    This is the commons at its worst and will do nothing to restore public trust and faith in parliament.

    As you point out Nick and many are asking the same, the question now is how long will he last?

  • Comment number 5.

    All eyes are now on Wednesday 12.00 for PMQ

    1) Will Mr Becow be able to keep order?

    2) Will he observe strict impartiality on whom to call to speak?

    3) Will he be able to persuade Mr Brown to answer the questions asked?

    Tune in for the next instalment of 'Parliament in Crisis' Same time, Same channel.

  • Comment number 6.

    Interesting that Nadine Norris sees this as a Labour party organised result - when they only yesterday accused of whipping in Margret Beckett?
    If our political parties can't even elect a speaker without it turning to political point scoring and party politicking what hope do we have that they will ever clean up their acts?

  • Comment number 7.

    He'll be fine. Many don't like him because he took his own line on many things and not the party line; this isn't - and shouldn't be - a major problem; he was a bit of a Blairite (as were a majority of the electorate at least for a short time) but much more importantly he isn't a Brownite.

  • Comment number 8.

    Hi Nick,

    This is a very important point.

    Did Labour falsely claim to the Press that they were whipping for Becket?

    If they did, then the real intention was to vote for Bercow.

    It either happened that way, or more that 300 Labour MPs defied the whip.

    The effect of this was to make Becket the bookies' favourite, at the same time lengthening the odds on Bercow, making him the rank outsider.

    If any Labour MPs placed a bet on Bercow to win, then this could be seen as manipulating the betting market, no differently to soccer betting syndicates.

    So the thing you should be asking Labour MP's is: "Do you place a bet on this at a bookmarker?"

    Bet you don't, though!

    See you in the pub.

  • Comment number 9.

    So the day came where the commons had the chance to show the people of the UK that they get it and fully understand they have to rebuild the peoples trust.
    The requirements;
    To elect a speaker that is not tainted by the expenses scandal
    To elect a speaker who enjoys the support of every side of the house
    To elect a speaker who enjoys the respect of the electorate so that Parliament can start to recover some credibility.
    The new Speaker Flipper Burko gave back £6,500 after failing to pay capital gains tax on the sale of a second home in 2003. Claimed twice for hiring an accountant to do his tax return and charged taxpayers £1,000 after his toilet became blocked with a sanitary towel.
    On the second requirement he is a Labour plant to poison the well for any future Tory government and is despised by the major opposition party.
    On the third he can never command the respect of the electorate because from the outset he does not command the respect of the whole house.
    So on the day that they could show the people that they understood their anger they decided to play political games.
    Peoples lives are being destroyed by the hour and they think that this will make them look good in the eyes of those people.
    Our political system has served us well when the people in Parliament were focused on the needs of the UK population BUT this is a House of Disrepute and the cause is the people that are presently incumbent.
    The Labour party have proved to me yet again that they are unfit for Government and high office.
    They simple find it impossible to act in the interest of the whole country.
    They can only ever see the narrow self serving Labour Party interest and to spite the Torys.
    Groundhog Day with speaker martin a Labour Speaker for Labour objectives.
    If we cant trust them to elect a speaker in a proper manner how can we trust them with anything else?
    There is now only one thing the people of this country need, as this bunch of hypocrites have lost any credibility and that is a general election, to clear the lot of them out and start again.

  • Comment number 10.

    MP voting for Bercow (mainly Labour and LibDems) have indeed put party before country.

    Bercow is soiled goods. We may as well ask Fred the Shred to reform the banking system.

    Come a Tory government Cameron should redact this tainted speaker.

  • Comment number 11.

  • Comment number 12.

    Good to see democracy still working then....

    From a limited choice of candidates the final choice was made between 2, the electorate are reportedly unhappy (as most MP's DIDN'T vote for Bercow in the first round) and the people at the top have essentially selected the new speaker for their own gain.

    Sound familiar?

    The only difference with this one is we don't have to listen to months of endless campaigning and none of us had to go to the local primary school to cast our vote.

    Now Bercow is safely installed - LETS START THE CAMPAIGN TO GET RID OF THE SPEAKER!!

    This appointment changes nothing.

  • Comment number 13.

    Wrong man, appointed for the wrong reasons and by a wrong Government.

    Another bad day for British politics. However, perhaps he can redeeem himself and at least get Mr Brown to ANSWER just ONE question during his time has speaker. That would probably qualify for a knighthood for services to the impossible.

  • Comment number 14.

    This speaker thing is Weird Science to me.
    The festering Brown yet endures; a larger steaming pile, several orders of magnitude bigger than that of Brother Chet at the end.

    Brown Labour has yet another puppet speaker, given new life from the elixir of Andre Toulon.
    Labour pulls the strings, but Bercow is a marionette that also fits like a glove.

    The Arch-Cenobite - Butterball Brown, prefers these more intimate methods of manipulation as he fiddles the Parliamentary puzzle box.
    What sights he has yet to show us as he tears Brittania's soul apart.

  • Comment number 15.

    He charged the taxpayer £1000 to remove a sanitary towel which was blocking his toilet.


  • Comment number 16.

    OK - take it this way:

    His wife has turned from being a Conservative supporter to a Labour party member.

    He is the first Jewish speaker ever.

    Are you going to moderate that again? What has upset the moderators about those facts to make them remove the post?

    How sad. Some democracy. New government needed to sort out the BBC along with Labour's misdemeanours.

  • Comment number 17.

    Nick is right, the Bercow problem seems to be confusing at best. So he moved towards Labour and seems to close to them at times. So did Heseltine and Clarke over Europe, so did Widdecombe over fox hunting. Perhaps it's the feeling that it was done on purpose as an attack on Cameron to undermine his authority? But then, perhaps its just that he was the best and most inspiring candidate available on the day, which is by and large true. Whatever it is, they just need to get over it and and get on with it!

    This spoof sums it up pretty well:

  • Comment number 18.

    Judge him by his actions - many a reformed poacher becomes the best gamekeeper.

    As a short term option ahead of the election his position seems potentially a good one - a tory who isn't too close to David Cameron should ensure that all party leaders act properly in the chamber.

    If as feared he does use his position as Speaker for self promotion then he deserves to go when a re-configured house returns after the general election.

  • Comment number 19.

    Listen live to LBC, London's Biggest Conversation, where you will hear the general public ringing in and discussing this Speaker Elect's appointment.

    James O'Brien (a leftie leaning LSE graduate) seems to be AGAINST it.
    His angle is the expenses issue for which Bercow expressed NO remorse. click on "listen live"

  • Comment number 20.


    Given that Blair's highest share of the national vote was 43.2% in 1997, I don't think you can say a majority of the electorate was ever Blairite (even for a short time), and I suspect the majority would take great offence at the accusation.

    I know I do.

  • Comment number 21.

    It's sad how many Conservatives are up in arms about Bercow. Many tend to be the Nadine Dorris end of the party, one was saying that Bercow's election will mean abortions for almost everyone, which i didn't think was within his remit as speaker

  • Comment number 22.

    OK - take it this way:

    His wife has turned from being a Conservative supporter to a Labour party member.

    He is the first Jewish speaker ever.

    Are you going to moderate that again? What has upset the moderators about those facts to make them remove the post?

    How sad. Some democracy. New government needed to sort out the BBC along with Labour's misdemeanours.

    Seeing as we've already had a Jewish (non-practising) prime minister in d'israeli, i fail to see the significance of a jewish speaker.

    perhaps you could elaborate

  • Comment number 23.

    He just does not get it does he? Any MP who starts off by telling us that MPs have had a hard time about the expenses, is not someone who understands what the problem really is. He is not going to clean it up. He has no idea.
    He was voted in by the current government members. The M Beckett item was just a blind, she polled 70 votes! Roll on the election and he can be removed and we can at least try and clean up politics.

  • Comment number 24.

    He's only been in the job 12 hours and you're already condemning him as a "labour stooge" or whatever, and calling for his removal.
    Call me naive, but shouldn't we at least see how he does in his first 6 months before judging?

  • Comment number 25.

    Seems like a very strange man who would switch to support Labour... strange only because he obviously has no reading of the sentiment within the country and the damage that this dysfunctional government have done to our country & democracy. The fact that some people find it hard to countenance his rightwing leaning tendencies should consider the political ground often occupied by this Labour government... it is strange form of National Socialism blended with fascist conservatism.

    Ode for an election....

  • Comment number 26.

    As a start to the reform mp's elect a speaker not for his qualities but as a snub to the opposition, they really dont get it...!

    as you are interviewing mr speaker could you ask him on behalf of the electorate..... why he flipped houses? (surely it wasnt to milk the system) ....and how he intends to make pmq's to live up to its name and make the prime minister actually answer a question...

  • Comment number 27.

    I have just read on the spectator website that yesterday a sick tory MP (David Maclean)was voting all afternoon for the new speaker from an ambulance. is this true?

  • Comment number 28.


    Could you list the 50 odd MPs who care so little about Parliament that they could not be bothered to vote in yesterday's proceedings?

  • Comment number 29.

    Span Ows (7) "he was a bit of a Blairite (as were a majority of the electorate at least for a short time)"

    When So? At the last election 64% wanted someone other than Mr Blair and his party and it was never less than 59.5% opposed to him.

    Of course our two main political parties stll clearly don't care what the public think and until the electoral system changes to pull power away from the executive and the whips office Mr Bercow or any other Speaker will have only minor influence on the outcome in the Commons.

    Change? Not while the two main parties still have anything to do with it.

  • Comment number 30.

    If the Tories do win the next election, then surely an independent Speaker is required.

    I don't recall Betty Bothroyd being partisan, or George Thomas; it is only Michael Martin who used the psoition of Speaker so blantantly as a prop to the Labour Government.

    Give the guy a chance and lets see what happens.

    However, what should be also stated is that if he is blantantly pro Labour, then there will be moves to oust him after the election; after all, no-one can say its unconstitutional now can they?

  • Comment number 31.

    Who cares? A fag end Parliament full of has beens votes in a Speaker who is up there with the best and worst of them on expenses. What is really needed, what the people of this country really want, what we are all crying out for is a General Election now!

    We need a new Government with a fresh mandate to sort out Parliamentary expenses, to start to get Government borrowing under control before the country is bankrupted and to give us the promised referendum on the EU Constitution (AKA the Lisbon Treaty)!

  • Comment number 32.

    Last night Nick on the 10 O'clock news, you gave the clear impression that the Conservatives were opposed to John Bercow because he was a break from the past and a reformist.
    On at least 2 fronts, this is clearly NOT the case....
    a) Any candidate who has promoted the idea of increasing MP's salaries to 100,000 p.a; and defended most MP's as honourable when all the evidence is to the contrary - + has a few dodgy expense claims of his own (Capital Gains Tax anybody) can hardly be described as a reformist or a breath of fresh air. Well not in the sense that the public wants at least....
    Of the candidates on show yesterday, only Richard Sheppard showed any real zeal for reform. Which possibly explains why he only received 15 votes.
    b) So if Mr Bercow is not a radical reformist then why did the Tories oppose him? As you seem to indicate here, but not on the TV news, Tory angst against Bercow, stems from his personality and a sense amongst backbenchers that Bercow had betrayed the party in order to further his own ambitions now fulfilled to become Speaker. Hence, his wooing of Labour MP's.
    So clearly Nick, last night you understood the real story behind Conservative dissatisfaction with Bercow, but failed to report it. Instead you left millions of viewers with the false impression that the Tories were opposed to reform of the H of C. No doubt some are, ditto some Labour MP's but as you must know, the party as a whole has a far better voting record on this subject (in recent months) than Labour. So why were you so disingenuous? I can't believe that you are personally biased your reporting at ITN was exemplary, so what's happened? Are you suffering from some kind of Stockholm Syndrome? Where by you moderate your reports, to curry favour with the Labour lovies at the BBC? From where Im watching, this seems to be the only answer. Which is a shame, because you were a respected journalist.... once!

  • Comment number 33.

    How much of John Bercow's anti catholic past is likely to be dragged up now he's become the speaker ?

    The first catholic speaker in history has been removed for not reforming enough a year after his reform ideas were ignored and is replaced by a man who is happy to preach anti catholic rheotoric which is more suited to the era of Guy Fawkes!

    He is also happy to associate with UDA members and be pictured with Red Hand of Ulster Flags something i think most would not find very appropriate due to the recent actions of the UDA in chasing out Romamian families in Northern Ireland

  • Comment number 34.

    Out of all the hustings speeches, Bercow's seemed the most flippant, more concerned with getting a laugh than making serious points. Some of the candidates were making very passionate, heartfelt speeches about how important the parliament was to them and how they were determined to stand up for it and make it better; Bercow, on the other hand, gave us an impression, a lenthy history lesson, and a few jokes about not wanting to be prime minister and how short he was. Near the end, he seemed to remember this was an election for a new speaker, so threw in a few things everyone else had said with that tired phrase "reform and renewal" which has been bandied about so much that it has lost all meaning. Anne Widdecombe response, sitting behind him, shaking her head throughout much of his speech, was rather telling.

    This was a case of style over substance, which is exactly what we need wheedled out of politics in the first place because it's a major reason why politics has become so unsavoury. Given that Dave "Just Call Me Dave" Cameron looks set to continue this trend, we really need a speaker with a no-nonsense attitude. It remains to be seen whether or not John Bercow is that man.

  • Comment number 35.

    "meant to be respected and revered for their office, even if the occupant does not command widespread support"

    Just like MPs, till now.

    "if ... he is seen to stumble, I'm in little doubt that many Conservatives will try to remove him."

    If MPs are able to change and elect the Speakers so easily and quickly, then why can't we able to change and elect MP jsut as easily and quickly?

  • Comment number 36.

    It really proves to the public at large that MP's are completely out of touch with the electorate. Every public poll from HYS to the Spectator Coffeehouse poll put Anne Widdicombe top of the poll. I thought her's was a brilliant speech.
    Sticking fingers in the opponents eye is still the favourite pastime of MP's when they are not filling in their expenses; or is it allowances.

    Just hope someone well known stands against him in the next election and public opinion is given a vote.

  • Comment number 37.

    After the tremendous shock MPs have had, many will be hankering to get back to business as usual.

    The election of Mr Bercow is a good sign. It means that at least in respect of choice of speaker, a majority of MPs have voted for reform, not business as usual.

  • Comment number 38.

    22. GoldCaeser

    Nothing to elaborate. I did not pass any opinions, just facts, which seem to upset the moderators and possibly yourself?

    Bercow is the first Jewish Speaker. Fact.

  • Comment number 39.

    Hoist on their own petard is a phrase which springs to mind - whilst Speaker Martin was author of much of his own misfortune, the baying Tories and Lib Dems seeing dethroning of the speaker as some kind of political victory now have to face the predictable consequences of their action.Did they really think that the convention on alternating speakers parties (already broken for Martin) would mean the favoured Tory candidate (Young) would be nodded through.
    It was well reported that Bercow really really wanted the job (he all but sprinted for the chair) and that his support base was Labour MPs.

    The simple maths that there are currently more Labour MPs than all the other parties combined meant he was most likely to succeed even without Tory support. Many just for the notion it would really annoy the Tories having given up on winning the next election - such childishness.

    The La Beckett play was classic distraction strategy to give the rabid right something to moan about and focus their attention on. They even sent a heavy to lean on a rent a quote member to ensure it got sufficient coverage. Too busy picking holes in Beckett to spend enough time doing damage to Bercow that might have made a difference.

    So now they have enthroned a speaker who seems to convieniently find expenses totally precisely the maximum amount permissible every year. Has claimed for dubious items, seems to eat an awful lot and not paid CGT on his second home sale a la Blears.

    I would like to beleive his public statements but he past recent actions are not a good indicator - however were stuck with him now.

  • Comment number 40.

    38, flamepatricia wrote:
    Nothing to elaborate. I did not pass any opinions, just facts, which seem to upset the moderators and possibly yourself? Bercow is the first Jewish Speaker. Fact.

    Come now. You must have had a reason to raise his Jewishness in your post. After all, why go to the trouble of highlighting the fact if it had no relevance whatsoever? Don't be shy - explain its relevance to whatever point you were making. I'm curious as well.

  • Comment number 41.

    1. At 10:07am on 23 Jun 2009, flamepatricia wrote:
    He's the first Jewish speaker ever.
    His wife has turned from being a Conservative to a Labour Supporter.

    Say no more.

    One of your more thought-provoking observations there, Patricia - I would be interested to hear you expand on it. Also, any thoughts on the request to the BNP to change it's rules of membership, etc?

  • Comment number 42.

    Off the top of my head (followed by a quick sneaky-peaky at Wikipedia just to check)

    Michael Howard (party leader & Home Secretary)
    Oliver Letwin (shadow Home Sec.)
    Malcolm Rifkind (Foreign Sec.)
    Benjamin Disraeli (PM)

    Were all Jewish and Tory. Patricia - what on earth are you going on about?

  • Comment number 43.

    If Nadine Dorries wanted a different Speaker from the Tory ranks then why on earth didn't she (and other anti-Bercowists) organise her colleagues better?

    She should have demanded a seperate Tory nomination process / hustings for their MPs to select one candidate.

    There were 7 Tory MPs proposed out of 10 candidates and this simply split the Tory vote.

    Oh and Ms Dorries should remember this is what democracy is about - the winner is the one who gets the most votes and it dosen't matter where they come from - all votes are equal !

  • Comment number 44.

    These events just shows the total contempt that Nu-Labour have for the electorate. This article also shows the total contempt Robinson and the BBC have for the taxpayers who are forced to pay them. Over the coming months we will have to endure more pain and hardship as Nu-Labour, aided by the BBC, spitefully wreck more of the economy and fabric of this country.

  • Comment number 45.

    Mr Bercow bears a remarkable resemblance to the late Peter Lorre. By the use of voodoo technology would it be possible to exhume Mr. Lorre and install him as Speaker? Would anyone notice? Mr. Cameron needs to watch out for 'The Beast with Five Fingers' - particularly if it is hovering over the Fees Office till.


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