TOO many allegations from senior sources have now been made about the behaviour of John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, for them to be treated in isolation. The cumulative effect was already detracting from his ability to preside over Parliament before the latest revelations.
Even if Commons leader Andrea Leadsom does not intend to pursue a complaint after being reportedly called “a stupid woman” by the Speaker in the midst of Wednesday’s Commons chaos over Transport Secretary Chris Grayling’s statement on the East Coast Main Line, Theresa May has no such doubts. According to a Downing Street spokeswoman, the Prime Minister views the remarks as completely “unacceptable” and put the onus on MPs by saying that it is a matter for Parliament – and not the Government – to reconcile.
This is correct. The Speaker runs Parliament and must, therefore, be a person of absolute repute who commands the confidence of all. And, while Mr Bercow has championed the rights of backbenchers, his conduct has attracted mounting criticism of late and he’s been opaque about precisely when he intends to step down. Just as the Commons needed a fresh start in 2009 when Mr Bercow’s predecessor, the late Michael Martin, resigned over the expenses scandal, the same principle is applicable now if the culture of behaviour at Westminster is to be changed so all politicians, and staff, are treated with respect – and irrespective of their gender or ethnicity. For this to happen, it requires a Speaker who can lead by example. Mr Bercow is not that person.