Sarah Sands: The hating of Bercow – let me count the ways

Share
Related Topics

While America is reflecting on the consequences of ideological polarity, this is the English version of a bust-up. The Speaker, John Bercow, who in the film version might be played by Tom Hollander, confronts the burlier Tory figure of Mark Pritchard, in the corridors of Westminster. For some reason, Bercow decides to speak as if he were in Wolf Hall: "The courtesy of the House is that honourable members should stand aside when the Speaker passes by." The honourable member growls: "You are not fucking royalty, Mr Speaker." Bercow squeals after him: " Well a good morning to you, Sir." Pritchard's line is not Wilberforce, but it caught the imagination of his colleagues and is now being printed on T-shirts.

The first lesson of this altercation is that a political chasm is not necessarily the greatest cause of discord. It was a brilliant shaft of psychology on the part of Labour to torture the Tories by endorsing a Tory speaker, whom they could not stand. Bercow can be as neutral as Switzerland, but the Tories suspect him of something worse than bias, which is bad faith.

Yet their accusation, that Bercow moved from the right to the centre left of his party, are pretty irrational in a coalition government. John "The Baptist" Bercow was only preparing the ground for David Cameron.

I have canvassed some who come into daily contact with the Speaker about what makes him so peculiarly annoying. Answers include his height, aggravated by having a tall (and therefore politically manipulative) wife. Also cited are his pushiness, excitable nature, and inability to read signals. Worse, he suspects his critics of snobbery and bullying towards the "Jewish son of a taxi driver". Is he wrong?

Fairer observers point out that he is rather good at his job. He is more able than his predecessor, Michael Martin, who also saw himself as a victim of class disdain. A parliamentary sketch-writer on a right-wing newspaper notes that Bercow will get through all the questions on the order paper, where Martin might have managed three or four.

Bercow clearly enjoys the theatricality of his position, but then so did Betty Boothroyd, and everyone loved her. The core of the case against him is that he has bad manners. One acquaintance claims that he once saw him being sharp with his own mother. Calumny, surely!

Lack of manners turns out to have the widest application. It includes unscrupulous ambition – Bercow is not forgiven for stirring up class war against his Speaker rival, Sir George Young – and a lack of emotional intelligence. One detractor I spoke to accused Bercow of having uncool friends, such as the Tory Julian Lewis.

A very damning thing you can say of colleagues is that they "try too hard". Men like Cameron have a gift for achieving without obvious exertion. This is called ease. When Bercow tries sonorous parliamentary banter, you can see the Tories grinding their teeth. Who does this poltroon he think he is, Derek Jacobi?

Bercow's most annoying trait is his Piers Morgan-like refusal to live quietly and modestly. A smaller-than-life character who enjoys the spotlight, he has a job that keeps him there. There is something of Anthony Powell's Kenneth Widmerpool about him. He can only triumph. He is not "fucking royalty", but he knows how the world works, and will use the knowledge to his advantage. I have a sneaking admiration for him.

Sarah Sands is deputy editor of the 'London Evening Standard'

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Client Services Manager - Relationship Management - London

£30000 - £32000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

Recruitment Genius: Credit Controller / Customer Service

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding business...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Engineers / Senior Electronics Engineers

£25000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in Henley-on-Thames, this...

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Misleading Translations: the next 40

John Rentoul
Syrian refugee 'Nora' with her two month-old daughter. She was one of the first Syrians to come to the UK when the Government agreed to resettle 100 people from the country  

Open letter to David Cameron on Syrian refugees: 'Several hundred people' isn't good enough

Independent Voices
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project