IF not now, when? The question which came to haunt Theresa May in the months, weeks and days prior to the Prime Minister’s tearful resignation last week is equally pertinent to John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, who appears just as reluctant to give up high office.
Elected 10 years ago in the wake of the Parliamentary expenses scandal, there was every indication that Mr Bercow would step aside this summer after evidence emerged of an unacceptable culture of bullying and harassment.
Now, during a visit to the United States, Mr Bercow has let it be known that it is not “sensible to vacate the chair” at this moment in time while there are “momentous events” taking place and “great issues” to be resolved.
Yet, while he was clearly referring to Brexit, there is, in fact, little prospect of Britain’s future relations with the EU being resolved in the near future, hence two very good reasons why this is the right time to appoint a new Speaker.
First, it is always preferable for such an important decision to rest with sitting MPs rather than leaving it to newly-elected MPs who may not know the contenders – or their characteristics. Second, the recently-published Cox report made clear that the House of Commons needs a wholesale change in leadership to address an unacceptable culture of bullying and harassment.
Given the role of Speaker is fundamental to this reform process, Mr Bercow’s obfuscation will make it harder to restore order at Westminster – whether inside a Commons chamber deeply divided by Brexit rancour or in how MPs, and officials, treat their staff on a daily basis.