John Bercow clearly isn’t backing down in his stand-off with ministers. Today he opened a new front in the House of Commons, taking aim at the government for refusing to allow MPs who are pregnant or on maternity leave to have a proxy vote. The issue came up when Harriet Harman made a point of order about her colleague Tulip Siddiq, who has had to postpone the caesarean section for her baby so that she can vote tomorrow. Harman asked the Speaker whether he could give the Hampstead and Kilburn MP a proxy vote, but Bercow replied that this was not something he was able to do himself.
He continued by arguing that it was ‘essential’ for the Commons to maintain its reputation as it is ‘starting to take an interest in the modern world’ that the matter of proxy votes be resolved. The matter had been agreed on twice by MPs, he pointed out, and it was time for ministers to recognise the ‘express will’ of the House and that ‘reactionary forces are overcome, and if people want to express their opposition, let them not do it murkily behind the scenes’. By this point, the Speaker was staring angrily at the government benches as he delivered his response. He called on these opponents to stand up and admit that they opposed ‘progressive change’.
It’s worth pointing out that Andrea Leadsom, usually the object of Bercow’s ire, has been trying to convince the Conservatives to get on with implementing the proxy vote system. She has been, in the words of one MP who has been working with her, ‘totally screwed over by Number 10’, who do not trust or particularly rate her. So this isn’t just the Speaker prolonging what is an intensely personal feud with the Leader of the House. It’s him sending yet another message that the more ministers want him gone, the harder he is going to make life for them.