The Sketch: Bercow makes a play for the big chair

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The Independent Online

War in the playground! "Bullies and Snobs" in the gallery versus "Famous and Fearless" on the floor of the House.

John Bercow rose to speak, leaving a characteristic mark on the seat beneath him. The oiliness of the fellow is amazing. He congratulated the Speaker for "not being prepared to be pushed around by snobs and bullies". Without wanting to hog the limelight, I assume I'm one of the latter. "Have you got a problem with that? I SAID, Have you got a..." Arf arf.

What's he up to? Is it part of Bercow's pitch to become the next Speaker? It's such a bizarre idea you don't take it seriously. But like most politicians, Bercow has no answer to the first question of politics: "Why not me?"

When he started in politics, he went right. It didn't really work. So then he went left. It hasn't worked at all. He's now heading straight up, heavenwards, to the Speaker's chair. The little lad takes the fourth or fifth most senior seat in the British constitution. Cats laugh themselves sick at the thought of it.

He lacks the one virtue the current Speaker manifests: character. At different stages of his career, I say that Bercow would have voted for anything on the order paper. Try the litmus test. Section 28. Stick your litmus paper into Bercow and does it turn pink or blue? He's a famous liberal now, but he voted in favour of Section 28 in July 2000.

What about capital punishment? Abortion? Union rights? I suggest he'd vote for or against any of them depending on who was sitting at the top of the greasy pole at the time.

Bercow as Speaker? If you say, "But he won't get it surely?" you sometimes get a thoughtful pause. The Tories wouldn't vote for him, naturally, but they wonder whether Labour would. The recent greasing has been egregious, they note. He has been bantering across the dispatch box in a truly nauseating way. He asks such supportive, cross-party questions of Harriet Harman you wonder why he isn't in jail, and he voted last week with the Government on agency workers, walked through the lobby with the Red Flag wavers...

If Labour couldn't have one of their own, the next best thing would be the most unpopular Tory backbencher.

You remember Bercow did that bit of work for Gordon Brown? Some sort of review, some noble cause? The details escape me. But at the time, there was speculation he might cross the floor. Maybe Gordon let him understand there'd be Labour backing for Bercow as Speaker? Nothing would make Gordon laugh more. It would prove he had a sense of humour after all.