Bercow, John

Background

Known worldwide for his cries of ‘ordaaaa ordaaa’, John Bercow served as the Speaker of the House of Commons from 2009-2019.

As Commons Speaker through one of British politics’ most turbulent periods, Bercow is widely acknowledged as the most ‘political’ Speaker since the Second World War.  Depending on whom you ask, Bercow is either a national icon, or simply the worst Speaker in modern British history.

John Bercow

John Bercow left Parliament in 2019.

What does John Bercow do now?

Since January 2020, Mr Bercow has been a part-time Professor of politics at Royal Holloway University. In 2020, Bercow published his biography, ‘Unspeakable’.

In July 2017, Bercow was appointed Chancellor of Essex University, where he had previously studied as an undergraduate.  He is also available for paid public speaking engagements.

In 2021, Mr Bercow could be found on the greetings website, ‘Cameo’.  Monetizing his celebrity status, he was available for bookings for £82.50.  He will accordingly record a very short video message for you. Nigel Farage can also be found on the site, but he is cheaper than Bercow, at £75.

On his Cameo profile, Mr Bercow states, “I served as Chief Officer of the House of Commons. Among many other duties my job was to maintain order, which sometimes meant punishing members who broke the rules of the House!”.

Critics have suggested that such an approach is not befitting of the former office of Speaker.  Others maintain Mr Bercow has every right to earn a living.  Should demand soar, and he record thirty short messages in a day, it is assumed that this could become quite a lucrative little sideline for Mr Bercow.  Satisfied customers can even also leave Mr Bercow a tip.

 

John Bercow and the Labour Party

In May 2021, John Bercow told ITV’s ‘Good Morning Britain’ that he no longer considered himself a Conservative, saying, “I have gone from being a rabid rightist to being a soft leftist.”

Continuing, he said he could list a number of examples of Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, “not telling the truth”.  He also confirmed that he had voted for the Labour candidate for Mayor, Sadiq Khan, in that month’s London mayoral elections.

These comments were notable, given that after leaving office, former House of Commons Speakers have traditionally refrained from either commenting on, or becoming involved at all, in party politics.

In mid June 2021, John Bercow went a step further.  Breaking with tradition, he announced that he had now joined the Labour Party.  Speaking to the Observer newspaper, Bercow said that, “I am motivated by support for equality, social justice and internationalism. That is the Labour brand”.

Bercow’s wife, Sally Bercow, is herself a long standing Labour Party member, and once stood for the party for Westminster Council.

Should he ever receive a peerage, it has to be assumed that Bercow will now sit as Labour Peer.  In this regard, Bercow will differ from past Speakers Betty Boothroyd and Michael Martin. They both sit as independent Crossbench peers in the House of Lords, having continued the political impartiality associated with their former position as Speaker after leaving office.

Things you may not know about John Bercow

He is a seriously good tennis player
First picking up a racket at eight-years-old, Bercow became Middlesex under-12s tennis champion.  By all accounts John Bercow was very talented at tennis, and to this day he remains a qualified tennis coach.  During his time as Speaker, Bercow was frequently to be seen each year, seated in the Royal Box at Wimbledon.  He also really enjoys the Davis Cup.  In 2015 he travelled to Ghent in Belgium, to watch Britain win the Davis Cup.

Bercow has even written a book on tennis in which he ranks his top-20 best male players. Number 1 is Roger Federer.

He has a season ticket at Arsenal
Bercow is a supporter of Arsenal, so often it seems, the political team of choice.  Alongside, Sir Keir Starmer, Jeremy Corbyn, and ITV’s political editor, Robert Peston, Bercow is a season ticket holder at the club.

He has a phobia of wasps
Bercow has a crippling phobia of wasps. According to the Daily Mail, Bercow was mercilessly bullied for this during his years at Primary school.

He doesn’t like heights
Bercow apparently doesn’t like heights.   He is a friend of the Conservative MP, Gillian Keegan and her husband, with whom he has previously been skiing.   According to Mrs Keegan, Bercow had a problem with chairlifts.

He is teetotal
Both Bercow and his wife are teetotal.

Speaker of the House of Commons

After making his pitch as a ‘reforming candidate’ following the 2009 MPs’ expenses scandal, Bercow was elected the 157th Speaker of the House of Commons.

Although he was once a Conservative MP, Bercow was elected to this role mainly through the votes of Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs.  Bercow was soon resented by many of his former Conservative colleagues and tensions with the Speaker’s Chair were high from the outset.  In 2010, then Conservative MP Simon Burns called Bercow a ‘stupid, sanctimonious dwarf’.

In 2015, there was an abortive attempt by the then Leader of the House, William Hague, to remove Bercow as Speaker. After surviving the attempted putsch, Bercow was visibly moved; calls of ‘resign’ nonetheless echoed from the Tory benches.

Bercow proudly championed the voices of backbench MPs during his time as Speaker.   One of his primary vehicles for doing this was in permitting Urgent Questions. Through Urgent Questions, Ministers have to drop whatever they are working on, and attend the House of Commons to explain themselves. During the 2007-08 Parliamentary session, only 4 ‘Urgent Questions’ were asked of Ministers.  However under Speaker Bercow, during the 2017-19 session, some 307 Urgent Questions were asked of Ministers.

Bercow was frequently accused of bias during his time as Speaker.  These accusations of partiality peaked in January 2019 when Bercow broke with convention to allow an amendment on a government motion. The amendment required then Prime Minister, Theresa May, to propose alternative Brexit plans within 3 days if her Brexit deal was rejected.

In May 2018, Bercow’s former Private Secretary Angus Sinclair accused Bercow of bullying.  In January 2020, an official complaint was filed to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards in relation to allegations that Bercow had bullied his staff.  Mr Bercow refutes the claims.

When Bercow retired as Speaker in 2019, the Government broke with convention by refusing to appoint Bercow to the House of Lords.  This was widely seen as an act of revenge by the Government, one designed to cause Mr Bercow maximum annoyance.

Bercow’s successor as Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, appeared to announce a more low key approach upon taking office, commenting, “I’ve come into this job as a referee”, adding that, ‘It shouldn’t be about me, it’s about the Chamber’.

John Bercow Brexit

Despite being Commons Speaker, a non-party political role in which its occupants have traditionally remained impartial for life, Bercow has publicly revealed that he voted ‘Remain’ in the 2016 EU referendum.

Indeed, after leaving office, Bercow described Brexit as ‘the biggest foreign policy mistake in the post-war period’. This comment further reignited questions over Bercow’s impartiality during his time as Speaker.

The irony of John Bercow becoming the darling of the country’s liberal pro-European political class is not something that would be lost on those that knew John Bercow in his younger years.

Bercow had previously been a member of the Monday Club, an internal grouping which sat on the far right of the Conservative Party.  Indeed, Bercow had been Secretary of the Monday Club’s Repatriation and Immigration Committee.

In his younger days, Bercow’s political heroes were Margaret Thatcher and Enoch Powell.  John Bercow later said: ‘Powell convinced me that it was right to fear large-scale immigration. This was 1981, the year of the inner-city riots, and my fear was that we were in a politically explosive situation’.

In 1985, Bercow became the Chairman of the Federation of Conservative Students (FCS), doing so at a time when the group was attracting attention for its hard-right opinions.   In 1986, Bercow was the FCS Chairman when the Conservative right winger, Norman Tebbit, actually shut the organisation down.

Political career

Bercow was first elected as the MP for Buckingham in 1997.  Bercow was at first seen as a Thatcherite ‘attack dog’, a man to watch among the new Parliamentary intake.

In 2000, Bercow was appointed as the Conservative Party’s Home office spokesman, before becoming Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury under Michael Portillo in 2001.

However, Bercow quickly became uninspired by Iain Duncan-Smith’s leadership of the party and resigned from his frontbench role in 2002. It was around this time that Bercow began to move away from his former political beliefs.

Commenting on his ideological evolution, Bercow told the Independent in 2004: ‘It started with one issue. I voted for a differential age of consent for heterosexuals and gays and lesbians, but I wasn’t sure I was right. I decided…talk to gay people, church leaders and parents to gain their impressions. I came to the conclusion that there was no reason for statutory discrimination and told the Commons I had changed my mind’.

Although he rejoined the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Secretary of State for International Development under Michael Howard in 2003, Bercow was removed a year later in a reshuffle. This gave way to speculation that Bercow might soon defect to the Labour Party. This speculation was heightened after Bercow praised Tony Blair’s ‘outstanding statesmanship’ during the Iraq War.

In 2005, Bercow won Channel Four’s ‘Opposition MP of the Year’ award.  In the same year he voted for Ken Clarke, rather than his once tennis doubles partner, David Cameron, to become Conservative Party Leader.

By this point, Bercow had already considered a run for Speaker. An anonymous ‘Bercow for Speaker’ website had reportedly appeared online as early as 2000.  Former Labour MP Stephen Pound said: “He gave many of us the impression that he wanted this job before he became an MP.”  Not surprisingly, when the moment came, Bercow jumped at the opportunity to replace Michael Martin in 2009.

By convention, major parties do not stand against the apolitical Speaker in General Elections. However, as if he had some kind of premonition of the Brexit controversy that would one day come, UKIP’s Nigel Farage decided to stand against Bercow in the 2010 General Election.  Farage said at the time: ‘This man represents all that is wrong with British politics today. He was embroiled in the expenses saga and he presides over a Parliament that virtually does nothing’. Farage came third in the contest.

Outside politics

How old is John Bercow?
John Simon Bercow was born to a taxi-driving father on the 19th of January 1963.  He grew up in north London.

What did John Bercow do before politics?
After graduating from Essex University, Bercow initially embarked upon on a career in public relations. He worked for the lobbying agency Saatchi and Saatchi. After an unsuccessful run for Parliament in 1992, Bercow worked as a Special Adviser to Jonathan Aitken, then-Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

Bercow has always been a naturally-gifted orator.  As a young man, and not even yet an MP, Bercow was said to provide training in public speaking to some existing Tory MPs.

Is John Bercow married?
Bercow married Sally Illman in 2002.  The new Mrs Bercow had herself once been the Social Secretary of the Oxford University Conservative Association, but later joined the Labour Party.  In that sense, her political journey was similar to the one subsequently undertaken by her husband.

Mrs Bercow appeared on ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ in 2011, but was the first to be voted off the show.