The Sketch: Shouldn't the Speaker practise what he preaches?

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The Independent Online

Speaker news. A bit too much Speaker news to be respectable.

On a Wednesday point of order, Patrick Cormack referred to Bercow's election promise that he would "rebuke ministers" if they made announcements outside the House. It was his big idea for making the House more central to the nation's political life. That morning, we'd heard Lord Adonis announcing a rail nationalisation on the Today programme, 12 hours before the House was to hear.

But Bercow did not rebuke the minister. No, he excused him. He had merely been "commenting on commercial announcements that had already been made". That was the first line of defence. Why the Speaker should be defending ministers is not clear.

Iain Duncan Smith joined in. Having heard the radio that morning, he could say Adonis had gone well beyond airing old news and had "made a statement on air".

Bercow said he hadn't heard the programme (second line of defence) and that he'd look into it and come back about it (third and fourth line). Yesterday, IDS picked up the issue again and told the House that he had given Bercow a transcript of the interview which showed it was rebukable and that Bercow had made no reference to it from the chair.

So, two things: the Speaker's breaking his election promises already and he's telling fibs: "I will... come back about it."

He's been defending ministers against similar charges since his election. There was Ed Balls on federating schools and Alan Johnson's ID cards back-off – both announced first in the media.

Why is he defending ministers against the House? And why is he putting himself in such a questionable position? Speakers are supposed to be beyond the reach of these low accusations.

Yesterday he made a surprise announcement that directly after the recess, he's sacking the three deputy speakers (two Tories and one Labour), and holding elections for three new ones – two from the government side and one from the opposition. Why favour the Government on this? Why not three deputies from three parties?

I think this means there'll be no Tory deputy speaker. Labour have the numbers to vote in their own. And the Liberal Democrats will get the numbers from their own party plus Labour. Any Tory would be humiliated. But what's in it for Bercow? He may be fulfilling a secret deal he made with the third party to get one of them in as a deputy speaker in return for their earlier support. That's the theory.

But one fact stands out. His announcement of this election was on the BBC website – accompanied by glowing BBC commentary – a full 45 minutes before he made the statement to the House. He must have leaked it to the media himself. The Speaker!

What a lovely little rat's nest.

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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