John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, has accused "nasty, cowardly and chauvinistic" Tory MPs of criticising his wife in order to undermine him.
In an outspoken interview, he hit back at Conservatives who have expressed disquiet over Sally Bercow's attack on David Cameron as a "merchant of spin". Although he was a Tory MP before becoming Speaker last June, Mr Bercow's wife is on Labour's list of parliamentary candidates.
Mr Bercow told tomorrow's Westminster Hour programme on BBC Radio 4: "It's a very old-fashioned view that suggests that somehow the spouse of the Speaker is an appendage of the Speaker. I have a responsibility to be absolutely impartial. That obligation applies to me. It certainly doesn't apply to my wife. My wife isn't my chattel.
"First, some people are pursuing the old-fashioned, nasty and rather cowardly tactic of trying to get at me through my wife – it's very low-grade stuff and I don't attach any great significance to it. The second thing is I think there is a good deal of old-fashioned chauvinism. The notion that somehow my wife has got a duty either to agree with me or to say nothing. My wife is an independent person, she's entitled to her own views. If she seeks to be a candidate, she's perfectly entitled to be."
Mr Bercow's counter-attack could increase the prospect of his being ousted as Speaker if the Tories win the general election. He was elected with the support of Labour MPs. However, Mr Bercow said he was "cautiously optimistic" that he would keep his job.
He said: "I started from the very straightforward premise that the best response to doubt, scepticism and outright criticism is not to engage in a war of words, but to show that I can do the job – to prove that I am competent; for it to be clear for all to see that I am fair."
The Speaker said it would be a "travesty" if the general election result was not known until the following day because counting may not start until the next morning in many constituencies. He urged local authorities to think again. "I hope others will join me in making the case for instant democracy, not slow-motion democracy," he said.
Mr Bercow admitted that the weekly joust between Gordon Brown and Mr Cameron was "a bit of a turn-off" for the public. He would like to see "more backbench members having the chance to ask pithy and to-the-point questions to which they get pithy and to-the-point answers".
He confirmed plans for the Commons to cut short its three-month summer recess by sitting in September. He said it was "extraordinary" to suggest that the annual party conferences should take priority over Parliament. "The public want visible proof that we are doing our main job, which is to work in Parliament," he said.
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