Andy McSmith's Diary: Scowling Speaker John Bercow and the Anglo-Saxon epithet


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Indy Politics

One of the saving graces of the House of Commons used to be that while MPs might behave badly towards each other, they at least had respect for the office of the Speaker. That took a dive during Michael Martin’s mishandling of the MPs’ expenses crisis, and hit a new low today when John Bercow was openly accused of driving a popular parliamentary officer into early retirement.

The splendidly bewhiskered Sir Robert Rogers was a popular Clerk of the Commons, who has worked in Parliament for 42 years. In April, he announced his intention to retire. He did not give a reason, though it was widely rumoured that working relations with Bercow had disintegrated. Today, MPs gathered to pay tribute to Sir Robert. It promised to be a worthy but fearsomely dull occasion, until Michael Fabricant – the same attention-loving Tory MP who tweeted recently that he might want to punch The Independent’s Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in the throat – decided to make open reference to the rumours in the undergrowth.

“We don’t know why he has chosen to retire early,” he said, “though his working environment behind closed doors has not always been easy, as those in the know have already alluded. And in that respect, despite Sir Robert having studied Anglo-Saxon at Oxford and being told at least once in front of others to ‘eff you see kay’ off by you, Mr Speaker, I think that wouldn’t have encouraged him to stay.”

Another Speaker, on being accused like that, might have ordered the offending MP to withdraw the comment on pain of being expelled from the building. Bercow merely scowled furiously and retorted: “I’ll ignore that last observation, which suffers from the disadvantage of being wrong.”

Clegg struts the catwalk

There were many different reactions to the Daily Mail’s coverage of the reshuffle, which consisted of photographs of newly appointed or promoted women ministers – under the provocative heading “Esther, the queen of the Downing Street catwalk” – with detailed commentary on each woman’s appearance.

Nick Clegg’s response was to post on Twitter a picture of himself, in Downing Street, with the caption – “What I wore to the office today. Fingers crossed The Mail approves.”

Arise, Squire James

For the outgoing Minister for International Development, Alan Duncan, a consolation prize: he is to be Sir Alan. If he were a married man, his wife would then be Lady Duncan, but he is not: he was the first Tory MP to come out. The archaic honours system does not allow for his civil partner, James Dunseath, to get any sort of moniker for being hitched to a knight. In 2012, the Tory MP Oliver Colvile tried to amend the law, but his Bill did not reach the statute books. If it had, Dunseath would have been able to style himself Squire James, or something.

Hancock’s legal hell

The self-inflicted disaster that is the end of the long political career of the MP Mike Hancock has just worsened. Hancock was a Portsmouth councillor for more than 40 years, as well as MP for Portsmouth South on and off since 1984. When he was accused of sexually harassing a vulnerable constituent, his original response was outright denial, so the council, at considerable expense, hired a barrister to investigate.

Now that Hancock has owned up, the council wants that money back. According to the Portsmouth News, even Hancock’s old comrades in the Lib Dems backed the decision to pursue him through the courts, if necessary. Hancock will be entitled to a generous pay-off when he leaves the Commons at the next election – but not enough to cover a legal bill estimated to be £150,000.