The verdict is in and it's not good for John Bercow. Yesterday finally saw the publication of the independent expert panel report into his behaviour as Commons Speaker, with 21 separate allegations of bullying being upheld against the former Buckingham MP. The conclusions of the report were damning: Bercow was judged to be a 'serial bully' and a 'liar' who 'repeatedly and extensively' bullied staff and exhibited 'behaviour which had no place in any workplace.'
It will be seen as vindication for the members of staff who spoke out against Bercow for years before yesterday's publication. It's also damning of those who continued to prop up and cheer on the former Speaker in office, purely on the cynical grounds of derailing the Brexit process.
Allegations of Bercow's bullying behaviour were aired by the BBC's Newsnight programme as early as May 2018. Five months later he faced calls to quit after an independent report by Dame Laura Cox found that harassment and bullying had been tolerated and concealed for years. It led to the resignation of three Tory MPs from the representation group chaired by Bercow, with the trio citing his handling of bullying and sexual harassment allegations in parliament as the reason for doing so.
Despite all this, Bercow continued for a long time to be the toast of the FBPE (follow back, pro EU) Twitter brigade. Many still supported him after he quit as Speaker in 2019, despite two highly-respected former members of parliamentary staff submitting formal complaints about his behaviour in January 2020.
Now though, any hopes of a political comeback appear to have been finally extinguished; his membership of the Labour party was suspended five hours after the report came out. Mr S has rounded up the best of the worst Bercow-backing cheerleaders who egged him on, even after the first allegations had been aired...
The grand dame of the Labour party rather let the cat out of the bag back in October 2018. Following the investigation by Dame Laura Cox, Beckett told BBC Radio Five Live that Labour should overlook Bercow’s alleged behaviour to secure a meaningful vote for MPs on Brexit. She said:
“Abuse is terrible, it should be stopped, behaviour should change anyway, whether the Speaker goes or not. But yes, if it comes to the constitutional future of this country, the most difficult decision we have made, not since the war but possibly, certainly in all our lifetimes, hundreds of years, yes it trumps bad behaviour.
After Bercow ripped up parliamentary procedure to allow a vote on the Grieve amendment in January 2019, the author of 'How to be Right' weighed in with this finely-aged classic. Bercow has appeared several times as a guest on O'Brien's show in recent years, with his friendly 'grilling' on the bullying claims back in February 2020 being notably more gentle than the treatment which O'Brien metes out to others who call in to his show.
A series of gushing tributes greeted the news that Bercow was to depart the Speakership in late 2019. A classic of the genre was this offering by ardent Remainiac and self-styled peoples' champion David Lammy, now recast as Sir Keir Starmer's shadow Foreign Secretary.
Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. And no Remainer harmony would be complete without the voice of the king of centrist dads Gary Lineker. For him, Bercow was both 'principled' and a 'difficult act to follow'; Mr S awaits to see if the latter's successor, Lindsay Hoyle, will also be the subject of an 89-page report into bullying accusations.
Bercow's departure in November 2019 prompted a raft of valedictory tributes. He might not have got a peerage but at least he got an interview in GQ magazine with Alastair Campbell. Who else knows more about a 'big heart' than the king of spin? Tellingly, among Bercow's characteristics which Campbell listed approvingly was his party trick of being a 'good mimic', something he put to good effect in belittling his staff, according to yesterday's report.
Given his penchant for ripping up parliamentary procedure, it perhaps should not have come as a surprise in February 2020 that the government declined to award Bercow a peerage, making him the first Speaker in 230 years not to have been given one. Nevertheless a row blew up, midway through the Labour leadership contest. Dawn Butler, then a candidate for the deputy post, went on Sky News and said:
“We really do need to ask the Conservatives why is it that you haven’t, like everybody else, ensured that the Speaker of the House is given a peerage? Otherwise I think that is a form of bullying too.
Talk about the real victims.
— James Holland (@James7Holland) March 8, 2022
Labour MP Dawn Butler: Not giving Bercow a peerage is a form of bullying too. pic.twitter.com/ma8g9rH9Uh
Bercow might have quit the Commons in 2019 but he wasn't done with politics yet. In June 2021 he joined the Labour party, where among the first to tweet their congratulations was the Magic Grandpa himself. Corbyn claimed he would 'look forward to campaigning' alongside his parliamentary colleague for 'social justice and peace in the future'; something they both now can do as suspended members of the same party.
There is history here of course; Bercow's anti-Tory interventions were useful to Jezza during his leadership of the Labour party while the Islington MP no doubt appreciated the former Speaker telling Alastair Campbell in his GQ magazine interview that 'I do not believe Jeremy Corbyn is anti-Semitic.' In exchange, Bercow sought Corbyn's help in attaining a peerage.
Indeed, cringeworthy leaked emails showing how he wrote to the latter's office boasting of his four honorary degrees, ‘no fewer than five shadow ministerial roles’, a stint as deputy leader of the Tory group on Lambeth council – and experience as a tennis coach. Truly, the best of us.
Following yesterday’s publication, Bercow can probably count on one hand the number of MPs who will still back him. Cometh the man, cometh the sycophant. For Barry Sheerman, a veteran Labour MP who used to attack anyone who questioned the Dear Speaker’s love of freebies, has popped up to defend Bercow as 'a great reforming Speaker of the House of Commons who deserves our thanks and respect.' Pass the sick bag.