John Bercow is a curious little poppet. He’s come a long way since his spotty days of undergraduate hangem’n’floggery in the Federation of Conservative Students, an organisation banned by Norman Tebbit for being too right-wing. Today he’s more likely to be found welcoming one acronym or another to Parliament or accosting the word ‘progressive’ and roughing it up.
Bercow, now handsomely perched in the gods of the liberal establishment, has defied the axiom that we become more conservative as we grow older. (Then again, if you start out in the Monday Club and keep going right, you’ll end up in Rhodesia by Friday.)
We need to understand this change of heart to appreciate the splenetic fury he inspires in the worst, most tribal brand of Tory. That rage is boiling over again, occasioned by two unfortunate incidents that have nonetheless been blown out of all proportion by the Speaker’s unyielding critics.
Bercow’s Love Actually moment over a proposed state visit by Donald Trump made headlines here and in the United States. The Speaker told MPs he did not wish to invite the President to Parliament, citing ‘our opposition to racism and sexism and our support for equality before the law and an independent judiciary’. (The latter remark he directed, pointedly, at the Tory benches.)
Since any invitation to Westminster Hall or the Royal Gallery would have to be agreed by Bercow, his counterpart in the upper chamber, and Lord Great Chamberlain, that was that. The Speaker had stuck one thumb in the eye of Donald Trump and the other in the eye of the Government. The Labour benches erupted in cheers and the Scottish Nationalists broke into applause, a tic that continues to bemuse Westminster watchers but makes more sense if you’ve seen their evangelical mega-rally politics in action north of the border.
Tories were less impressed.