Bercow's bombshell has skewed the Brexit game and dealt Boris Johnson a bloody nose

 The Speaker has ensured that his replacement will be elected by the current ‘Remainer’ parliament. 

Sean O'Grady
Friday 04 October 2019 12:51
John Bercow to quit as speaker by October 31

After his emotional, amusing and typically Bercovian valedictory performance – including an especially flamboyant tie by Van Buck of England – the opposition benches rose to give John Bercow a standing ovation.

Unsurprisingly the great majority of those who found themselves on the Conservative benches did not follow suit. They sat on their hands, on the whole, and notwithstanding a slightly saccharine exchange of mutual admiration between Speaker Bercow and Michael Gove, the frostiness was understandable.

You’d never have thought that Mr Gove had, not so long ago, actively tried to get rid of Bercow. Such are the courtesies of the honourable members of the House of Commons,

For Speaker Bercow has, to use a slightly unparliamentary phrase, shafted the Tories and Boris Johnson.

One of the attractions for Johnson of an early election is that it would allow the next House of Commons to pick a new Speaker. If there was a large Tory majority, it would allow, perhaps, for a more compliant, sympathetic Speaker to be selected, one less inclined to allow the Commons to take control of its affairs; and one more willing to allow ministers to exercise their usual prerogatives. More of a Boris stooge, in other words.

But by standing down earlier than was strictly necessary, and symbolically on the putative Brexit Day of 31 October, Bercow will ensure that the next Speaker of the Commons will be elected by the current “Remainer” parliament.

Given that the custom is for the larger parties to tend to take it in turns to provide a Speaker, and that Bercow was (nominally) a Conservative, a Labour member would seem to be well placed to become the next choice – perhaps one of Bercow's current deputies, Lindsay Hoyle, or the backbencher Chris Bryant. Of the two it is Mr Bryant who would be the bolder, Bercowesque choice; but also one that could not be faulted on any objective grounds.

In any case, John Bercow was due to step down very soon anyway, and the assembly of a new parliament in a few weeks would be the normal time to do so. He has now prevented his enemies in the House – and there are some – from electing a sort of anti-Bercow as the next speaker – someone such as Nigel Evans, a former deputy speaker or even Jacob Rees-Mogg, whose standing has declined somewhat in recent days.

As for Bercow's record, well, they say history is written by the victors. Not since Edwardian times has parliament been subject to such trials and stresses as it has been in the past few years. Most of Bercow's decade-long Speakership he has overseen hung parliaments – and then the fractures of Brexit. The show, it has to be said, is still on the road, at least, and British parliamentary democracy is still functioning, after a fashion. That it is doing so at all is perhaps the greatest of Bercow’s many achievements in his role.

The momentous nature of the times he found himself in have overshadowed his other reforming work in the Commons, which carried more energy than most speakers, and his efforts – not entirely successful – to restore some of the prestige of our parliamentarians, lost after the expenses’ scandal.

Bercow, among his global TV audience, will also be remembered for his orotund tones and mannered speech, inspired apparently by the novels of Jane Austen. Still, “Mr Squeaker” as his sometimes silly and obsessional critics called him, will remain a controversial figure long into his retirement. He at least deserves to put his trotters up.

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