Harriet Walker: Sneering at the Bercows is class snobbery

The Speaker and his wife inspire opprobrium, but Kate is fawned over for her silence
Click to follow
The Independent Online

I thought only ritzy people got to sit on the front row. But there was Sally Bercow, wedged between former PMs Gordon and Tony for the Queen's speech at Westminster on Tuesday. So wedged, in fact, that when her clingy skirt rode up to show her stocking-tops, she was powerless to stop it. Bercow, whatever her state of undress, is always deployed by the right-wing press to embarrass her husband, but he needed no such help this time, rambling on as he did about a gay charity during what was arguably the monarch's time to shine, before calling Her Majesty a "kaleidoscope Queen", summoning a Soho nightspot to mind rather than anything more traditionally regal.

Oh, how David Cameron's patrician eyebrows jerked around his smooth, posh face! How coarse and tedious these little people are! Have they no breeding? Were the cameras not on him, the PM would no doubt have indulged in an aristocratic facepalm, or whatever the upper-class equivalent is. It was like watching Downton's Dowager Duchess boggling at some light smut over the dinner table.

Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail was equally speedy, if less poised, in his bashing of these commoners who dared to give themselves airs and graces: Bercow denounced with the contempt reserved usually for grandiloquent trade union leaders, his wife dismissed as walking like a transvestite. There's no vitriol more potent than that of a snob nostalgic for the time when everyone knew their place.

But what honeyed, cloying praise has been reserved for the Duchess of Cambridge in the same week – the ultimate little person done good, who deigned to wear a dress borrowed from her mother and delivered a speech so stilted it was as if it had been edited by monkeys with access to the cutting room floor footage.

While the Bercows inspire only opprobrium for using their positions to say what they think, Middleton is fawningly respected for having apparently switched her own brain off. We only like social climbers who toe the line and fall quietly into rank alongside their betters. Sally Bercow is a notorious self-publicist – to the extent that one wonders even if the hapless flashing of hosiery was an accident. But that isn't what has made her ridiculous: it's her opinions, even though many of them (dare I say it?) are rather well-formed. Handily, her habit of making a laughing stock of herself and her spouse means her views are that much easier to scoff at.

Middleton, on the other hand, is faultless in the way only a true cipher can be. Ironically, our chance to hear her speak publicly for the first time only served to reinforce the fact that she has no voice of her own. What a strange nation we are, to criticise the Speaker (the clue's in the name) for not hushing his beak, and to make so much noise about a woman whose voice we've barely heard.