The past comes back to haunt John Bercow – and his other half

She was a ‘ladette’. He penned a politically incorrect dating guide. It’s not been a good week for the Speaker, says Andy McSmith

Nothing is, or should be, less controversial than the annual Hansard Society lecture given by the Speaker of the House of Commons. When the Speaker assumes office, he or she sheds all old political loyalties and from thereon steers clear of any divisive. Once a year, he delivers a talk to the great and good about the importance of maintaining high standards of public service in Parliament.



Last week, this task fell to John Bercow, the 105th Speaker of the Commons. Mr Bercow took care to explain – in case anyone present did not already know – that his role did not allow to venture into party politics. Yet in the question and answer session, he faced aggressive questions from the audience about his attitude to Britain's future in Europe – a reminder that people who think EU membership is a conspiracy against the British people by the political class are gunning for John Bercow.

Controversy has hovered over the head of the diminutive Mr Bercow ever since he was elected to succeed Michael Martin in June. No previous Speaker has gone into a general election fearing that he might lose his seat, because they are protected by a convention that none of the main political parties puts up a candidate against the Speaker. Fringe parties have not signed up to the deal, but they have never yet posed a serious threat to any Speaker, since it is one of the greatest offices int he British parliamentary system.

But Mr Bercow became Speaker at a time when the public's respect for Parliament is as at an all time low, which makes the past an uncertain guide to the future. He is being challenged, in his Tory seat of Buckingham, by the former leader of the UK Independence Party, Nigel Farage, a clever and energetic campaigner who looks and sounds more like a middle class Tory than Bercow does. This is not surprising, because Farage's father was an eminent city trader, whereas Bercow is the son of a minicab driver from Essex.

To add to the danger, the bundle of right wing prejudices that Farage will bring to the campaign trail are very similar to those that fired Bercow when the Buckingham Conservative first chose him as their candidate, 13 years ago. He is from the generation of working class Tories who idolised Margaret Thatcher and despised those who preceded her. His patron was that impacable Thatcherite, Norman Tebbit. When Bercow arrived in the Commons in 1997, Labour called him 'Tebbit the Younger'.

But he has since been on a political journey that has taken him so far away from the Tory right that it was widely though incorrectly rumoured that he was going to defect to Labour. His support in the election for Speaker came principally from Labour MPs. And, although Bercow has not joined the Labour Party, he has in a sense, married into it. His wife, Sally Illman, is from a very different background. He went to a state school in Finchley; she went to Marlborough College, one of the country's most expensive boarding schools. She was a Tory once, but campaigned for Tony Blair in 1997.

Tory wives are usually expected to help their husbands by attending party functions, such as coffee morning – but Sally Bercow is now standing as a Labour candidate for a council seat in Pimlico. She is unlikely to win it, but she hopes it will be a step towards a Labour seat in the Commons.

This week, she gave a startling interview to the Evening Standard, in which she opened the cupboard to show the world the skeletons it contained, to head off the risk that they might be uncovered later. In the interview, she praised Gordon Brown as "peerless", dismissed David Cameron as "a merchant of spin" and the Conservative Party as the "party of the privileged few." But what made the headlines was her frank statements about drink and casual sex.

"I was an argumentative, stroppy drunk," she said. "I would end up sometimes at a bar and someone would send a drink over and I'd think, ‘Why not?’ and we'd go home together. I liked the excitement of not knowing how a night was going to end. It was all very ladette."

It has now emerged the Speaker also has form. A comic article he wrote when he was a 23 year Tory councillor in Lambeth has come to light, in what must be an excruciating reminder of the youth he once was. The ‘John Bercow Guide to Understanding Women’ includes such observations as “women will settle for anything that breathes and has a credit card.”

One section was headed ‘How to pick up virgins’. Another was 'How to get rid of a girl after sex'. He also suggested "Maybe we could go back to your place and name your breasts" as a chat up line.

The Tory MP Nadine Dorries has said openly that Bercow and his wife have shown such “poor judgement” that he ought to be removed from the Speaker’s chair. If the Tories win the next election, they may put that threat into action, if Bercow is still there. But that is not his immediate worry. Before that, there is the question of how this week’s revelations will go down with the Conservative voters of Buckingham.

Speaker Martin was the first in more than 300 years to be sacked by his fellow MPs. Speaker Bercow is in danger of being the first to be sacked by the voters.

News
A Brazilian wandering spider
news

World's most lethal spider found under a bunch of bananas

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Wonnacott dancing the pasadoble
TVStrictly Come Dancing The Result
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
Sol Campbell near his home in Chelsea
voices
News
<p>Jonathan Ross</p>
<p>Jonathan Ross (or Wossy, as he’s affectionately known) has been on television and radio for an extraordinarily long time, working on a seat in the pantheon of British presenters. Hosting Friday Night with Jonathan Ross for nine years, Ross has been in everything from the video game Fable to Phineas and Ferb. So it’s probably not so surprising that Ross studied at Southampton College of Art (since rebranded Southampton Solent), a university known nowadays for its media production courses.</p>
<p>However, after leaving Solent, Ross studied History at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, now part of the UCL, a move that was somewhat out of keeping with the rest of his career. Ross was made a fellow of the school in 2006 in recognition of his services to broadcasting.</p>
TV

Rumours that the star wants to move on to pastures new

News
Kimi the fox cub
newsBurberry under fire from animal rights group - and their star, Kimi
Arts and Entertainment
filmsIt's nearly a wrap on Star Wars: Episode 7, producer reveals
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Russell Brand labelled 'left-wing commie scum' by Fox News
TV
News
Paul Nuttall, left, is seen as one of Ukip's key weapons in selling the party to the North of England
i100
Arts and Entertainment
BBC's Antiques Roadshow uncovers a TIE fighter pilot helmet from the 1977 Star Wars film, valuing it at £50,000
TV

TV presenter Fiona Bruce seemed a bit startled by the find during the filming of Antiques Roadshow

News
people

Comedian says he 'never laughed as hard as I have writing with Rik'

News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Science teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are seeking a languages...

Year 6 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking KS...

Year 6 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking KS...

Year 4 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 4 Primary Teachers needed Randst...

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past