JOHN Bercow’s handling of Brexit – and now his autobiography Unspeakable – should be set in the context of the exemplary example set by Yorkshire’s very own Betty Boothroyd.
Even though the televising of the Commons was a new phenomenon in the early 1990s, the then Speaker attracted little rancour when the totemic Maastricht legislation pitted the Major government against hardline Eurosceptics. She was impartial and her integrity never called into question.
She also did not use her own bestselling memoir to settle scores – instead it was a remarkable story, typical of her generosity of spirit to all, and a historical record of a life like no other.
Contrast this with Mr Bercow whose tome has just been published in record time to attempt to exploit his own notoriety. The former Speaker did allow himself to become diminished by Brexit, his judgments and pontification from a sedentary position in the Speaker’s chair which so disrupted debate.
And this week Lieutenant General David Leakey, who served as Black Rod and played a key role in Commons protocols said of the former Speaker: “He called me an anti-Semite once after being rather rude and insulting about my background, education and military career.” Mr Bercow denies this.
But Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the new Speaker, has already taken significant steps to distance himself from his predecessor by agreeing to publish any advice that he receives if he chooses, in future, to make procedural decisions about the business of the Commons which break convention.
And MPs from all sides have welcomed a discernible change in atmosphere at Westminster – they say proceedings are more business-like and the tone less abrasive.
That said, it is Mr Bercow who is out of order for using his book to condemn, rightly or wrongly, David Cameron as a “24-carat snob” and William Hague as “a weirdo” who was “robotic, cold and uninspiring”.
His perspective on a period of unprecedented political trauma – and the justification for some of his decisions – would have been revealing enough without having to resort to such partisan name-calling.
This in turn, points to a degree of vengefulness and vindictiveness on his part that became self-evident towards the end of his Speakership when Mr Bercow allowed himself to become the story on so many occasions.
Unlike Sir John Major and Tony Blair who wrote, without hesitation, 90th birthday tributes for Baroness Boothryod last summer that appeared in The Yorkshire Post, I don’t suppose the PMs who served under Speaker Bercow will be so willing to offer such contributions at some future time.
For while Gordon Brown was a supporter, Cameron and, more recently, Theresa May and Boris Johnson are, I’m guessing, likely to be more reserved with their verdicts.
And, while I’m at it, why should Mr Bercow receive an automatic peerage when so many allegations about his conduct and alleged bullying are still being investigated?
Until due process has been completed, he should remain a commoner – even if this lowly status is at odds with his inflated view about his own self-worth and self-entitlement.
JOHN Bird, the social entrepreneur and founder of The Big Issue, is one of the more effective life peers and he hit the mark this week with his questions about the closure of libraries.
Noting how Culture Ministers promote policy and local government colleagues allocate funds, he asked whether this explained the 10 per cent decline in libraries – and 6,000 lost jobs – in recent years.
Yet the response of Baroness Barran revealed a lack of urgency. “I do not want to guess at the Dispatch Box, as ministerial careers get cut short if one makes a habit of that,” she said.
How about Lord Bird – and children’s author Michael Morpurgo who is leading a national campaign on children’s literacy – being put in charge? Our libraries might – just – have a new chapter ahead.
CAN Boris Johnson be trusted with defence policy? Former military chiefs clearly have their doubts, including Otley-born General Nick Houghton, a former Chief of the Defence Staff.
Now Baron Houghton of Richmond, he told the House of Lords: “Defence should not be left in the difficult situation where the capability it purports to have bears little relationship to the available funding. There is nothing more frustrating or demoralising than to be institutionally underfunded and yet not be allowed to admit it.” Strong words from a loyal man.
HERE are words I don’t get to write very often: I agree with the Rail Minister.
I’m referring to Chris Heaton-Harris and his condemnation of TransPennine Express for its performance record, and customer service, as the Government considers whether it, like Northern, should have its franchise revoked.
Accepting the criticism of fed-up backbenchers from Yorkshire and the North East he said that he “will happily look into how compensation is paid to TPE customers” and that he understands points “about how poor the information to TPE customers has been”.
“Something that we would think would be quite easy to get right, and that rail passengers across the piece appreciate, is honest information on why services cannot run,” he added.
“A bit more transparency could help to lessen some of the anger that is quite rightly felt by passengers when they are literally left in the dark.”
At last. I – and others – have only been saying this for three years.