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

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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'

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