Speaker John Bercow: Champion and scourge of MPs
Once it would have been a contradiction in terms: a controversial Speaker of the Commons. Once Speakers were senior parliamentarians, marinated in the traditions of the House. But John Bercow, the 157th MP to hold that office, is controversial.
As Speaker he's upped the pace at ministerial question times and repeatedly forced ministers into the Commons to explain their policies and decisions, by granting far more urgent questions and emergency debates than his predecessors. It's part of a conscious strategy to make government more accountable to Parliament - "no longer a poodle but a fearsome Alsatian," he says. Radical Tory MP Douglas Carswell says Bercow's "unfixing the parliamentary fix" by using his powers to facilitate scrutiny of government rather than to neuter it...
But other Conservatives see another Bercow - they say this Speaker is far more likely to slap down Conservative MPs than Labour MPs, and one has even produced statistics on that point. And they point to a series of clashes between the Speaker and senior ministers as further evidence of anti-Tory bias.
In The Speaker: Behind the Scenes, to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday at 1.30pm, I report on John Bercow and his agenda, with the aid of unprecedented access to the work of the Speaker, and the thoughts of critics and supporters. In the programme, the Speaker attacks MPs who behave like "juvenile delinquents" at prime minister's question time, and dismisses many of his critics as "snobs and bigots." He admits that his enemies see his temper as a weakness and try to wind him up - he regrets some of his spats with ministers, adding, ruefully, that he has had to learn to be patient.