Controversial John Bercow back in Commons hot seat

Despite Cameron’s attempts to shaft him, Bercow stays on as Commons speaker

John Bercow (right) as he is re-elected unopposed as speaker in the House of Commons on Monday. Photograph: PA

John Bercow (right) as he is re-elected unopposed as speaker in the House of Commons on Monday. Photograph: PA

 

John Bercow, speaker of the House of Commons once more, smiled as the tributes flooded in in the minutes after MPs, some newly elected, all recently returned, voted to have him once more in the speaker’s chair.

He was “inclusive”, said prime minister David Cameron, one who always determined about putting backbenchers first: “I am sure you will do that in this parliament, just as you did in the last.”

Six weeks ago, Cameron had tried to shaft him, sending William Hague in the final moments of the last parliament’s life to ensure the next speaker would be elected after a secret ballot.

Most, but not all, on the Conservative ranks intensely dislike Bercow, who was elected for the Conservatives in Buckingham in 1997. Some think he is insufferably arrogant; ministers believe he has bent too far to accommodate the opposition.

This time around, there was an appetite among some in the Conservative ranks to vote against Bercow, with some veteran MPs telling Conservative newcomers that they could not lead a rebellion against him, but would not object if one happened.

Cameron, conscious that the March political assassination bid brought little credit upon him, issued quiet but firm instructions from No 10 Downing Street that Bercow was to be elected unopposed.

In the end, Bercow survived in March because a share of Conservative MPs would not go along with it, believing the action was cowardly and in the poorest possible taste just hours before parliament fell.

Politely reminding the house, Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg said a refusal to re-elect a speaker who was willing to serve again would lead future office-holders to spend too much time worrying about their chances of staying on after an election.

Denuded benches

Since his troubles in March, Bercow has won a deal of sympathy from colleagues following his wife Sally’s latest foray on to the tabloid pages when she spoke about having an affair with Bercow’s cousin.

Reflecting the changes that took place on May 7th, former Scottish secretary Liberal Democrat Alistair Carmichael remembered the difficulties he had with Bercow during his time as a government whip.

Then, Bercow frequently infuriated ministers, ordering their attendance before MPs to answer urgent questions – evidence, he said, that he was “the backbenchers’ champion” who would forever press the role of parliament against the executive.

“I find the qualities that you exhibited which occasionally caused me difficulty on the treasury bench much more attractive now,” joked Carmichael, the sole survivor among his party’s previous crop of Scottish MPs.

The first day of the new parliament following the Conservatives’ victory had the air of a school, or the first day of a summer holiday by the swimming pool where people try to secure the best spots for the duration.

Front bench seats

Angus Robertson

The SNP had wanted to take the full bench, but that would have meant ejecting veteran Labour MP Dennis Skinner, who has occupied the aisle seat for decades, rebuffing past challengers. He did so again yesterday.

Emphasising that all has changed, Robertson told the House: “We represent 56 of Scotland’s 59 constituencies. We are now the third party in this House and we look forward to making Scotland’s voice heard.

“We look forward to opposing austerity and we will resolutely oppose the renewal of Trident weapons of mass destruction.”

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