With the interventions of former Speaker Betty Boothroyd, ex-ministers — including Jack Straw, Malcolm Rifkind and Margaret Beckett — and the Clerk of the Australian Senate, Rosemary Laing, it is becoming increasingly hard for John Bercow to spin the fight over his choice for the replacement Commons clerk as a row with his ‘usual suspect’ critics.
Yesterday’s Times leader could not have been any clearer:
‘Mr Bercow has done some good things as Speaker, and some of these would not have happened without his prickly personality. He has not minded irritating the executive by allowing more time to debate topical controversies. Yet he should beware of thinking that annoying everyone means he must be doing everything right.
‘A Speaker relies on the consent of the Commons to respect his or her authority. They are there to ensure free debate and good decision-making. They should avoid becoming the story itself. There has always been the feeling about Bercow that he rather too much enjoys the attention that his cussedness brings. On this occasion, he should show that he is willing to listen to others and make another appointment.’
We should not hold our breath, though. Bercow’s biographer Bobby Friedman tells Mr Steerpike that the widespread condemnation will, in all likelihood, only strengthen the Speaker’s belligerent streak:
‘Bercow’s instinct is always to dig in his heels when he’s cornered or faces opposition. It’s a real political weakness that he seeks to punish people who disagree with him, rather than trying to broker a solution. Instead of building bridges with David Cameron, he cuts him off in mid-flow at PMQs. He seeks to publicly humiliate Tory MPs who oppose his Speakership, making the problem even worse for him. And when people opposed his appointment of Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin as Commons Chaplain, he redoubled his efforts to appoint her.’
It is not for nothing that Bercow’s former colleagues on the Tory back benches call him the the ‘Buckingham Bonaparte’.
More Spectator for less. Subscribe and receive 12 issues delivered for just £12, with full web and app access. Join us.