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Why Modernising Speaker John Bercow Must Stay

21/02/2017 17:07
Neil Hall / Reuters

John Bercow is a moderniser. He is passionate about making the House of Commons accessible to voters. Part of that is making sure backbenchers can hold the government to account. The other part is getting out around the country talking to students and others about how he does his job and how they can connect with Parliament.

But he is also a traditionalist in one important sense - he lives up to the high standards of the Speakership by conducting debates with scrupulous fairness to all sides. He has never shown a whiff of favouritism.

History will judge John Bercow as one of the great Speakers of the House in the history of Parliament. I am certain he will easily see off the motion of no confidence put down by a handful of Conservative MPs and it is in fact so petty that I urge those MPs to withdraw the motion.

In reality the Tories have wanted him gone for a while. The government tried and failed to remove him last year. Now it is backbenchers taking aim in such an embarrassing way.

Tory MPs are accusing him of overstepping the mark with his comments on a possible state visit by President Trump. But Mr Speaker was merely voicing the concerns of many people who feel that Trump's views are contrary to the values we hold - like equality, diversity and minority rights. This is why this motion brings Parliament into disrepute. People inside let alone those outside just cannot understand it.

Mr Speaker is after all one of the three key stakeholders who controls Westminster Hall and he is entitled to his opinion. The way he expressed his view was in keeping with his style of being more accountable to the public.

It has also emerged that Mr Speaker gave his view on Brexit in a conversation with Reading students. But this, importantly, was after the EU referendum and after the Article 50 vote, and had no bearing on the results. Mr Speaker was engaging with young people in a democratic manner and it is encouraging to see how open our Parliament is becoming.

I have had many conversations with Mr Speaker in regards to how we engage with young people and we agree that we should always aim to be as honest as possible.

These are excuses not reasons for seeking to remove him. The fact is that many Tories oppose his modernising agenda. He has consistently and passionately championed equality and diversity throughout the House of Commons. His support has contributed to the House of Commons' spectacular rise to 28th in Stonewall's Top 100 Employers 2017, an impressive rise of 88 places from last year.

It was Mr Speaker who appointed Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin as the first ever black chaplain of the Commons. She is amazing and delicately helped all of us through the tragic murder of Jo Cox. Reverend Rose leads Parliament with a calm that reminds us all of the importance of our role. He also appointed Kamal El-Hajji as the Serjeant at Arms, the first ever Serjeant from an ethnic minority background. He persevered when others were pushing against his modernising agenda.

Speaker Bercow also promotes the Speaker's Parliamentary Placement Scheme. Ten people from disadvantaged backgrounds get the opportunity of a paid internship and gain valuable experience in an MP's office. In fact one of these graduates now works for me!

John Bercow is bringing the Commons into the modern age. He has gotten rid of robes and wigs which made the House look stuffy and out of touch. Parliament should always strive to look like the people we represent, but many Tories feel otherwise.

Mr Speaker has embarked on a long agenda of making the House more accessible and more representative. We must support him in this. It is not the job of the Speaker to be popular, but to be fair.

If the Prime Minister respects the will of the people she will call an end to the partisan manoeuvring by some of her MPs. Mr Speaker has my full support and that of my Labour colleagues. We are ready to defend him because his modernising agenda is right for Westminster and right for the country.

Dawn Butler is the Labour MP for Brent Central

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