Nicholas Lezard: Forgive Bercow his past indiscretions

Nobody was going to confuse him with Disraeli. So why try to discredit him?

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To address every layer of farcical silliness which has been, and continues to be, thrown up by the John Bercow affair would take more space than either this paper has, or you and I have patience for. His stupid pieces about how to pick up women from decades ago, his wife's admission to smoking cannabis and the curiously strangled, yet of course wholly convincing, denials of any further drug use, the thrashing about that they and his spokesmen are doing to minimise the damage... we are in a realm that only Armando Ianucci, of political outsiders, can navigate; and, being a political outsider, only he could see the bigger picture.

Before he does so, let me contribute a suggestion. I knew a few people like Bercow around the time he wrote those pieces: Young Tories, a peculiarly repellent breed, who in the early 1980s would have posters of Maggie Thatcher on their walls; the more provocative wore "Hang Nelson Mandela" T-shirts and after a night drinking with fellow members of the Monday Club, would goose-step around our university towns for a laugh. Heady days.

The first and last political interview I ever undertook was with John Carlisle, the pro-apartheid MP for Luton North, who stopped the tape when I mentioned the Monday Club, with whom he had been associated. The Monday Club, for the benefit of younger readers, was a splinter Conservative group who it sometimes seemed were only a shade to the left of what is now the British National Party. The chief ideological difference, as far as one could tell from the outside, was a more widely geopolitcal frame of offensive reference (i.e. it sometimes seemed as though they wanted the wogs kicked out of everywhere, not just Britain).

The thing about Bercow is that he is not now as wholly repulsive as you might have imagined he would have turned out. His previous associations do not inspire confidence, or even the smallest imaginable fragment of respect. But the reason why he is loathed in the Tory party today is not because of his embarrassing past on the far-right fringe; it's because he has moved too far to the left. He even has a wife who left the Tories and joined Labour – in 1997, which sounds opportunistic whether she joined before or after the election. (She joined shortly before.)

And now Metro, a paper distributed free to London commuters, has unearthed, or been handed, a strikingly daft and unfunny article it claims he wrote in the 1980s, the details of which don't bear repeating. Bercow denies authoring it. All anyone needs to know is that if he really wrote it, it would prove that he was a prize tit, although there is nothing, shall we say, wildly out of character about it. Well, we have all done things in our hot youth of which we might now be ashamed. But someone seems to have gone to a certain amount of trouble to drag this rather obscure episode to light.

No one was ever going to confuse Bercow with Benjamin Disraeli but it does seem as though there is a scheme to discredit him as much as possible. Now who on earth could possibly want to do that?

n.lezard@independent.co.uk

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