I hope no one is in any doubt: I deplore Mr Speaker Bercow’s decision to inform the House of Commons, from the Speaker’s chair, without consulting anyone else, that his personal dislike of President Trump’s opinions was such that he would, whatever the views of the House, veto an address from the President to both Houses of Parliament. I have covered this ground before. There is no need to add more.
Since Mr Bercow’s shocking outburst, some Tory MPs have decided to seek his dismissal as Speaker. I sympathise with them. But I also acknowledge they will get nowhere. The government will not support the attempt. That is not because ministers think Bercow is a good Speaker. It is because, I think rightly, they recognise that the government should play no part in choosing or dismissing the Speaker. Without government support the motion of no confidence in the Speaker is bound to fail. I am sure there must be some Labour MPs, the more constitutionally minded, who are as shocked as I am by Bercow’s renouncing of the impartiality of the Speaker’s office. But most Labour members of the House, and all SNP and Liberal Democrat members, can see nothing wrong with the Speaker expressing his political opinions in the chamber, so long as those opinions are their own. They will rush into the “No” lobby to vote against the motion and only a couple of hundred or so Tories will go into the “Aye” lobby.
I see, from today’s Sunday Telegraph, however, that there is a new scandal which the journalists tell us will bring about Bercow’s downfall. He has apparently told a group of teenage schoolchildren that he voted for remain in the EU referendum and that he hopes all the Brussels legislation on workers’ rights and equality will remain part of our law when we leave the EU.
That, I have to say, does not shock me nearly as much as his pronouncement on Trump from the Speaker’s chair did. It is hardly a secret that Bercow, having started his political career on the extreme right of the Conservative Party (desperately anti-immigration and pro-apartheid), has now become a dedicated Labour supporter. Of course, he should never have told those teenagers what his own political opinions were. But, in doing so, he didn’t reveal anything we didn’t know already. And, more importantly, the occasion for his revelation was not a Parliamentary one. He was not speaking ex officio. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t approve of the Speaker expressing political opinions to groups of schoolchildren. He was plainly wrong to do so. But that offence was nowhere near as serious as the other one.
If voicing politically controversial opinions from the Speaker’s chair is not enough to lead to Bercow’s dismissal (which it should be but isn’t), I really can’t go along with the Telegraph’s view that he will be thrown out because he told some teenagers that he had conventional Labour sympathies when we all knew that in the first place.
No, Bercow is with us for as long as he wants to be. What is more, if Tory MPs keep trying to throw him out he is quite likely to change his mind about retiring in 2020 and insist on staying on for yet another Parliament. Those of us who care about the constitution should beg Bercow’s Tory opponents to grit their teeth and keep quiet.