John Bercow: Conservatives will contest speaker’s seat in break from convention

Throughout his time sitting at the head of the Commons, the speaker has ruffled the feathers of his former Conservative colleagues

Vincent Wood
Sunday 08 September 2019 13:30
John Bercow: 'I have no intention of taking lectures on doing right by parliament from people who have been conspicuous in denial of and sometimes contempt for it'

The Conservative Party will put forward a candidate in the Buckingham seat of John Bercow in the next general election, breaking with a long-held convention not to contest the seat of the Speaker of the house.

The move to unseat the speaker after he allowed no-deal blocking legislation to be presented to the Commons was announced by business and energy secretary Andrea Leadsom, whose feud with Mr Bercow boiled over last year over allegations he called her a “stupid woman” after a parliamentary exchange.

The speaker normally runs an uncontested election in their constituency, with the only challenges faced by Mr Bercow during his tenure coming from fringe parties including Ukip – who put former leader Nigel Farage forward for the seat in 2010.

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Ms Leadsom said: “As an MP, a minister and a former leader of the Commons, I fully respect and appreciate the role of the speaker. But last week, the current speaker failed us.

“In allowing MPs to use Standing Order No 24 – an important procedure whereby MPs can debate urgent issues – as a route to taking over the parliamentary timetable and giving power to the opposition, the speaker hasn’t just bent the rules, he has broken them.

“So it is right that the Conservatives will recognise this fact at the next general election by standing our candidate against him in Buckingham.”

Mr Bercow first ran for parliament as a Conservative MP in 1997, serving in the shadow cabinet until he was named speaker in 2009.

Throughout his time sitting at the head of the House of Commons, where he serves without party ties in keeping with parliamentary procedure, the speaker has ruffled feathers of his former Conservative colleagues.

During the fallout from MPs expenses scandal, which occurred shortly before his appointment, he vowed to restore public faith in parliament and set about promoting public engagement in parliament while enfranchising backbench and opposition MPs.

In particular, the speaker has feuded with Andrea Leadsom, the former leader of the house. In 2018 he is alleged to have called her a “stupid woman” and a liar following a heated exchange in the Commons.

He had previously been slated to step down from the role this summer after 10 years in his post – however, he has stayed in the role as Brexit continues to dominate parliament.

During the passage of Brexit through the Commons, he has often been seen as facilitating MPs in using niche parliamentary conventions to frustrate government business, such as invoking rules like those stopping Theresa May from presenting the EU withdrawal bill a second and third time without making “meaningful changes” to its content.

As a result, the government has considered damaging his prospects in another break from convention. While the speaker is traditionally handed a place in the House of Lords immediately after their tenure, both Theresa May and Boris Johnson’s governments have threatened to withhold a peerage.

While divisive at home, Mr Bercow enjoys particular notoriety abroad due in part to his bombastic style of speech in the Commons. In Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant earlier this year, it was noted “no one on the British island can call ‘order, order’ more beautifully than John Bercow”, while Belgian newspaper Le Soir described him as “impossible to live with, often unbearable, but irreplaceable”.

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