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Out of Order – John Bercow

Written by Comment

On 31 October, one promise to leave was kept. John Bercow stood down. The news was met by a mixture of delight and despair, as is the new normal when anything is announced in UK politics. The view of his legacy will be equally polarising.

Bercow was elected as Speaker in 2010, standing on a platform of championing the voice of backbenchers, and increasing the role of Parliament beyond rubber stamping the wishes of a strong majority government. From the beginning he learned to be controversial, allegedly backed by just three MPs from his own party due to a shift in his views over the years that he was an MP, deviating from the right to a more socially liberal stance.

The policy of promoting backbenchers has been a key feature of Bercow’s tenure, particularly under the spotlight of Brexit. The Benn Act is just one prime example, allowing backbench and opposition MPs to debate a motion that would prevent Brexit occurring on 31st October if certain provisions were not made. The act passed, one of many nails in Johnson’s plans for Brexit and increasing the ire of the Tory party towards their former colleague.

More serious controversy has also existed during Bercow’s reign. Harassment and intimidation tactics have been reported by various civil servants and members of staff that work for the former Speaker. Ultimately, these reports were not investigated as they were deemed insufficiently serious and too historic by a Commons standard committee. Despite what might be seen as archaic and heavy-handed approaches by the Speaker, many MPs and staffers have wished him a happy retirement from across the political divide and views of his handling of Brexit issues.

Despite the criticisms of what can be seen as “interference”, it can be said that Bercow has just tried to fulfil the brief of the platform that he stood on, championing the rights of Parliament over that of the government


Consequently, Bercow’s legacy will most likely come down to a personal view of Brexit. To some, he is a hero. Numerous instances of allowing debates and bills from backbenchers to be debated which prevent a hard or no deal Brexit has won him the support as well as the hatred of millions. Despite the criticisms of what can be seen as “interference”, it can be said that Bercow has just tried to fulfil the brief of the platform that he stood on, championing the rights of Parliament over that of the government. There is no doubt that he, and his infamous chorus of “order”, will be missed from the Commons.  

Last modified: 20th November 2019

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