Even though he decided to call the delay in the appointment of a new Clerk ‘modest’, John Bercow has just suffered a humiliating climb down in the Commons.
The Speaker was heckled as he tried to justify his decision to appoint Carol Mills. When he said ‘a number of colleagues have since expressed disquiet’, Michael Fabricant shouted ‘HA!’.
He continued, but the Speaker’s authority has been seriously bruised by this episode. He styled himself as the champion of Parliament, empowering backbenchers. But pushing the Commons too far has led to those empowered backbenchers turning on him.
However, if Bercow thinks that this ‘modest pause’ is enough to calm down the 84 MPs who have pledged their support to the campaign by Jesse Norman and Natascha Engel for proper scrutiny of the appointment, he could find he is much mistaken. The group’s application for a proper debate on the appointment will be heard by the Backbench Business Committee. If there is a debate, then the Speaker could face even more heckling. Or else he’ll send someone else to regulate the debate.
Members of the campaign say that it depends what form the ‘consultation’ that the Speaker has promised takes. If it is a ‘consultation’ that MPs feel does not really consult, then he will find himself in some further difficulty.
And speaking to Coffee House after the debate, Michael Fabricant said: ‘He is damaged goods.’ It will be interesting to see whether a campaign that was about the voice of Parliament morphs into one to damage Bercow. So far the leading lights have been careful to ensure that this is not an anti-Bercow campaign. But there are certainly many MPs who would be happy for such a campaign to exist.
UPDATE Ladbrokes has 3/1 on Bercow being replaced as speaker by the election. Those who think he won’t can get quite a decent return on their investment too: it’s 1/5.