If John Bercow bans him from the House, give Donald Trump the platform he deserves – an upturned crate at Speakers' Corner

You can question his courage and his motives, buy you cannot question that Bercow did his duty by protecting the Commons from a despotic invader

Matthew Norman
Tuesday 07 February 2017 16:16 GMT
John Bercow 'strongly opposed' to Donald Trump address to Parliament

The last time a Speaker of the House of Commons defied a tyrant’s will, it sparked a civil war. That was back in 1642, when Charles I marched into the chamber to arrest five members for treason, and was rebuffed by William Lenthall.

“May it please Your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see, nor tongue to speak in this place, but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am her,” the Speaker told the King, who left in a rage without any prisoners, and promptly dissolved the Parliament and kick-started that nasty domestic between Roundheads and Cavaliers,

John Bercow is no Lenthall. There was nothing elegant about the way he announced his homeopathic decision to ban President Trump from the House for banning Muslims. In calling him a racist and a sexist, he used the word “I” enough to sidestep being criticised for self-effacement. Bercow does have a tongue to speak, and sounds like the servant of nobody.

Where Lenthall put his life on the line, all Bercow risked was the hatred of 99.3 per cent of Tory MPs – and he already had enough of that to see him through Doomsday. They hated him for a bumptious turncoat who jettisoned his hard-right views when expediency demanded long before he became Speaker. They hated him more for overtly cultivating favour with Labour, when it held a majority, to get his job. And more still for favouring the opposition after David Cameron took power.

Republican Congressman says John Bercow's opposition to Trump is insult to Republicans

If they hate him even more for endangering Theresa May’s holdy-hand friendship with Trump, that will be outweighed on Bercow’s narcissistic scales by his newly heroic status.

You can question his courage, because he had no tongue to speak about civil rights when allowing the Chinese premier the privilege he denies Trump. You can question his motives, because the integrity of those who reverse their beliefs is always in doubt. But you cannot question that he, like Lenthall, did his duty by protecting the Commons from a despotic invader in defiance of the Crown as represented by her government.

That Crown will be less lucky than Parliament. In being obliged to host Trump forthcoming state visit, our poor old Queen will suffer the most grotesque indignity visited on a monarch since Charles I lost his head.

No Dianne Abbott, Her Maj isn’t one to avoid unpleasantness by throwing a sickie. She too will do her duty, but without Bercow’s reward of popular support.

She must be queasy as she awaits Trump, and not just about being dragged into a vicious political row. She has to deal with etiquette conundrums never before associated with such a visit.

Can Trump be trusted to respond to a banquet toast without insulting the countries of a dozen ambassadors at the table? Will he veer from the agreed text to rate the bed-ability of princesses and royal Duchesses?

“Now I love Catherine, bigly. She’s an eight. Not a nine like Diana, who by the way I could have had. No question. And little Charlotte, isn’t she going to be something when she grows up? I have a gorgeous daughter myself, Ivanka, so I’m the best judge of these things …”

And the Queen, being aware of certain Moscow hotel bedroom allegations, will for the first time face a diplomatically sensitive decision about whether to fit a visiting head of state’s bed with a monogrammed rubber sheet. At 90 years old, who needs the novelty?

For Theresa May, there are deeper quandaries than protecting the bedding. She has to protect the post-Brexit economy with a quick and favourable US trade deal. Given the gossamer thinness of Trump’s tangerine skin, John Bercow’s tongue has probably made that harder

So the PM’s challenge is to assuage Trump’s wounded pride by finding him a fitting alternative venue for one of his exquisitely crafted keynote addresses. It needs to be close enough to Parliament to underline the grandeur of his visit, but not so close that it looks like a churlish rebuke. It has to be in an open space large enough to accommodate the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, who want to pay their respects. As a “people’s president”, Trump would prefer that to addressing elitist politicians anyway.

Above all, it needs to be somewhere with a history of hosting theatrically demented men (and women; but mostly men) whose passion is ranting conspiracy theories. You know the sort of thing. Vaccines cause autism, Barack Obama is a Kenyan-born Muslim sleeper who founded Islamic State, the Chinese made up climate change for commercial gain, the West is waging a war against Christians …

Corbyn issues support for Bercow's statement on Trump

If anywhere on the planet, let alone in Britain, is suited to hosting this speech, it is Speakers' Corner. Over 150 years, the Hyde Park home to free speech at its most outlandish and offensive has hosted so many proto-Trumps that nothing he could say would startle it (though it might be surprised to find one of its own in the White House).

Karl Marx regularly went to listen, as did Lenin, Steve Bannon’s role model, when he was in town. So did George Orwell, who in 1947, the year before he wrote the back in vogue Nineteen Eighty-Four, recalled having heard “a large variety of plain lunatics” at what he called “a minor wonder of the world”.

Today, it doesn’t draw the names and crowds like it did, but a soapbox oration from Trump would change that. And if Orwell’s ghost flitted along to hear him speak, just for old time’s sake, I imagine him smiling sadly to himself at his prescience in foreseeing the major wonder of the world that is the Ministry of Truth presidency of Trump and Bannon.

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