Huffpost UK Politics uk
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Alan Wager Headshot

In Praise of John Bercow

Posted: Updated:

Attempting to write a contemporary blog on Westminster politics during the summer recess is a difficult task. Indeed at times it can feel fundamentally pointless when compared to the holiday snaps of Cameron in his 'usual', 'casual' blue shirt and the inevitable 'socks and sandals' barbs aimed at Nick Clegg- as they sun themselves somewhere nice, but definitely not too nice. The inevitable knife-sharpening of real life Malcolm Tuckers and the Mail Online's news/trivia, should temperatures reach the 20s or heart rates rise above 70, neatly sees to any hopes of billionaire yachts or Bee Gees' mansions. So the blustering sight of John Bercow cavorting towards the airwaves provided some welcome relief, lighting up the post-Olympics silly season with a carefully unrestricted barb at 'embittered and resentful' Conservative MPs.

Bercow certainly does little to endear himself with the party whom he largely abandoned, and breaks the mould of the traditional Speaker of the Commons by talking rather a lot- for some rather a lot too much. He accuses a right-wing media of muck-raking, and of veiled attacks due to his movement from fervent Thatcherite to moderate Conservatism, and his wife's Labour support. Yet it is he who managed to create controversy within the confines of an innocuous World at One interview, and his wife who delivered an Evening Standard entitled 'Our Bedroom Secrets by Sally Bercow'- replete with (vaguely) suggestive photographs to match. After accidently watching 30 seconds of the latest reincarnation of 'Celebrity Big Brother', it is easy to see how the concoction of political reincarnation and media self-advancement could make Bercow a difficult medicine for many to swallow. Sir George Young, Cameron's choice for speaker in 2009 and the current Leader of the House, has probably never watched any of Channel 5's schedule, let alone his wife partake in it- bar an unlikely burning passion for Neighbours and CSI re-runs.

Yet while an unfortunate truth for some, Bercow's tenancy as Speaker has been progressive, transformative and a force for good within a resurgent House of Commons. He was elected within the tumultuous post-expenses climate on a reformers manifesto, and his election was both symptomatic of, and has proven a driving force behind, a reassertion of parliament since his election in June 2009.

One simple example has been the use of 'Urgent Questions', which require Ministers to make a statement and answer questions on an important issue of at short notice- issues that are often at the forefront of the news agenda. It may seem fairly obvious that giving MPs a fair crack at a minister, notably David Cameron on Jeremy Hunt, makes ministers more accountable to parliament rather than the media- having the knock on effect of increasing coverage and relevance of parliamentary activity. Yet only 2 were granted in the 12 months before Bercow became Speaker, while there have been almost 100 during Bercow's incumbency. It is a change he can largely take full credit for- something he has certainly been willing to do. Bercow has been criticised for talking too much within the chamber. His verbosity and virtuousness can at times be overbearing, for while Hansard records show Bercow speaks an average of some 700 to 800 words in a days sitting- his immediate predecessors Michael Martin and Betty Bothroyd spoke 100 to 200. Yet it is an essential truth that his determination for brevity among others has made the House more useful at examining the executive, particularly during the showpiece event of PMQs.

The House of Commons requires both colourful characters, and change that lends itself towards greater legislative power and executive accountability. John Bercow should be praised for providing both, and by reprimanding the media for providing 'low-grade, sub-standard, low music hall drivel'- he indirectly prevented this writer from an article on the Nick Clegg's sandals. Must do better, Nick.