John Bercow has finally spoken out over reports alleging that he called Andrea Leadsom a 'stupid woman' in the Chamber on Wednesday. In a statement to the House, the Speaker admitted using the word 'stupid' but refrained from saying whether he had also used the accompanying words 'woman' or 'f------ useless'. Bercow insisted that he had used the word 'stupid' only in relation to the government’s management of business – rather than towards Leadsom personally.
'Last Wednesday the government chose to schedule a major transport statement on an opposition day, thereby substantially reducing the time available for opposition business.
I thought then, as I think now, that this was very badly handled. It was in particular disrespectful both to the House and to the 23 backbenchers who were hoping to participate in the opposition day debate on the Grenfell Tower disaster.
It was in that context, and that context alone, that, having expressed my displeasure about the matter quite forcefully from the chair, I used the word “stupid” in a muttered aside. That adjective simply summed up how I felt about the way that that day’s business had been conducted.'
It's fair to say that his words fall into the non-apology category. Even if one takes Bercow at his word that he was not referring to the Leader of the House personally, his explanation was not in the least apologetic. He did not bother to say sorry for his outburst. Instead, he went on to issue a defence of it – explaining that he had no plans to stop disagreeing with the government’s management of business. His statement appears to be an appeal to the Opposition – pitching himself as a man standing up to the Tories. It was notable that many female Conservative MPs – including Leadsom – did not look at him.
The big question: will this be the end of it? Bercow's comments fall short of what many MPs had expected. If more evidence comes forward of what he said – and it is more than the sole use of 'stupid' – he will be in trouble. There is little to no goodwill among the Tory benches towards him – and on the Labour side it's running out fast.