Steve Richards: This man's triumph reveals the Tories' dark side

Share
Related Topics

Five myths whirl around the election of John Bercow as Speaker. The false assumptions shed light that extends well beyond a single parochial contest.

The first myth was outlined by the shadow Leader of the House, Alan Duncan, on yesterday's Today as he sought to explain why Tory MPs loathe Bercow. Duncan said his colleagues were angry because they felt he had sucked up to Labour MPs over the years in order to achieve his ambition of becoming Speaker. In fairness I should add that Duncan distanced himself from this view, although he was one of those who could not disguise his dismay when the result was announced.

The fatal flaw in the argument is that until recently it seemed almost certain the election for Speaker would take place in the next parliament when the Conservatives are expected to be the biggest party and Labour a much diminished force. It was only after the expenses saga that the former Speaker was forced out prematurely and a vacancy suddenly arose. Until then nearly everyone at Westminster assumed Michael Martin would stagger on until the election. If he had done so Bercow would have been better placed sucking up to his Conservative colleagues. Bercow chose not to do so. It might be difficult for some Conservative MPs to accept, but perhaps he spoke out on policy issues partly out of principle.

This brings us on to the second myth. Anyone watching the anger on the faces of Tory MPs when the result was announced might assume that Bercow was a raving leftie. In fact he has made a stand on a number of limited issues including his support for gay adoption and for the abolition of the anti-gay Section 28. He lost his job on the front bench under Michael Howard partly for arguing that the budget for international development should be maintained rather than cut. Bercow's reward for being genuinely progressive on a limited number of issues was the loathing disdain of virtually the entire parliamentary Conservative party.

The second myth leads on to the third. There seems to be a fairly widespread assumption the Conservatives have modernised under the leadership of David Cameron. Evidently they have not modernised enough if they can get so worked up about Bercow's modestly progressive views.

Partly they are angry because some Labour MPs were playing games, electing the one Tory they cannot stand. No doubt some Labour MPs were mischief making pathetically, but the fourth myth is that Labour benefits politically from the election of Bercow. The opposite is closer to the truth.

For Labour the most expedient outcome would have been the election of Sir George Young. With Boris Johnson wielding power in London and Cameron seeking a move to No 10, voters might have asked whether there is a limit to the number of old Etonians they wish to rule over them. As a bonus for Labour it is highly likely that Bercow would have defected, not least after the waves of hate from his own side in recent weeks. If he had done so he would have argued that contrary to their claims the Conservatives have not changed very much since the last election. Now Bercow is neutered and can no longer pose a threat as a genuinely progressive Tory contemplating a move to Labour.

The neutering of Bercow is the key to the fifth myth. Some Tories fear, and perhaps some Labour MPs hope, Bercow will be biased. He will not be. There is no scope for bias in what is a limited brief. Any candidate for Speaker stands on the basis that he or she is happy to leave the old political battles to others. Bercow has decided he wants to be a high profile parliamentarian rather than an active Tory or Labour MP.

I have no idea whether Bercow will be any good at the job, although as I wrote last week he would have been my choice. But the Tories' fuming sense of entitlement as they look towards power and their anger at the rise of a moderniser to a position of limited influence raise fresh questions about what they would be like if they win the next election.

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Sales Negotiator - OTE £24,000

£22000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An enthusiastic individual is r...

Recruitment Genius: Area Manager - West Midlands - OTE £35,000

£27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Area Manager is required to ...

Recruitment Genius: Area Manager - Yorkshire & Humber - OTE £35,000

£27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Area Manager is required to ...

Recruitment Genius: Embedded Linux Engineer - C / C++

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A well funded smart home compan...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Newspaper stands have been criticised by the Child Eyes campaign  

There were more reader complaints this year – but, then again, there were more readers

Will Gore
 

People drink to shut out pain and stress – arresting them won’t help

Deborah Coughlin
A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?