Speaker John Bercow brands critics 'snobs and bigots'

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Commons Speaker John Bercow lashed out at his critics today, calling them "snobs and bigots" and saying most Tories had wanted someone taller and more right-wing.

In an outspoken newspaper interview, Mr Bercow hit back at those who have sniped about him since he was elected Speaker just over a year ago.

He described criticism of his wife, Labour-supporting Sally Bercow, as "cowardly".

"There are two categories who attack Sally or me - snobs and bigots," he told The Independent.

"The snobs are those who regard themselves as socially superior because of their background, the person they have married, or the money they've got.

"The worst snobs are of no distinction at all.

"The bigots are people who cannot bear the idea of a Speaker with an opinionated wife. If she wants to be a Labour MP, she has every right."

Despite being a Tory MP before taking the Speaker's chair, Mr Bercow has faced particularly strong criticism among many of his former colleagues.

He faced a bid to oust him - led by Tory backbencher Nadine Dorries - after the general election, but survived with the support of most MPs.

He said today that Tories had objected to him because of his "perceived political views".

"I was no longer a right-wing Conservative and that was bad enough for some, but to become Speaker when I was not the choice of 'chaps' was a 'jolly bad show'," he said.

He said he had told Labour MPs at a speakership election hustings last year that "most Conservatives wanted someone taller, more right-wing, more conformist and with a wife plucked out of central casting from Conservative Central Office."

Mr Bercow also used the interview to warn that ministers in the new Tory-Liberal Democrat Government were little better than their Labour predecessors at making announcements to Parliament first.

"I don't think there has been a great improvement," he said.

And he highlighted Labour criticism of the Lib Dems' part in the coalition Government.

"There's a genuine sense of anger on the part of Labour with the Liberal Democrats being their deficit financing friends before the election and their Friedmanite foes after it," he said.

His comments are unusual as speakers traditionally renounce party interests upon taking the chair and seek to rise above the political fray.

Criticism of Mr Bercow has already centred on the perception that he is closer to Labour than the Tories, as well as Mrs Bercow's frequent, and sometimes contentious, comments on Twitter.

Only last week health minister Simon Burns apologised after appearing to call the Speaker a "stupid, sanctimonious dwarf" - a reference to his height, reportedly 5ft 6in - in the chamber.

But Mr Bercow said today that he sensed the threat to his position had "gone away now" and that Prime Minister David Cameron had intimated his support during the election.

The Speaker indicated he wanted to curb the time available to the Labour leader during the weekly 30-minute session of Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs).

"Six questions are too much for the Leader of the Opposition, they end up taking a large number of minutes, say 10 minutes out of 30, that is a third of the time gone," he said.

He said PMQs was too noisy and needed to be conducted in "a more civilised manner".

Asked about reforms to PMQs, Mr Cameron's official spokesman said: "I am sure the Prime Minister would be open to suggestions from the Speaker and from Parliament more generally."