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The Bollocked by Bercow Club: Tales of a Controversial Speaker

After the 2015 general election, Charles Walker found it prudent to establish a regular meeting with John Bercow. As the Conservative MP who nominated Bercow for the Speakership, Walker had become one of his staunchest...

After the 2015 general election, Charles Walker found it prudent to establish a regular meeting with John Bercow. As the Conservative MP who nominated Bercow for the Speakership, Walker had become one of his staunchest defenders and reliable advisors. He shared his wisdom on how to maintain composure, emphasizing the importance of humor in diffusing tense situations.

Bercow himself admitted to his propensity for aggression from the chair, acknowledging that he had initially reacted to displays of anger in an officious manner. However, he realized that deploying humor was more effective in calming people down. Outsiders found his eccentricities and unique use of the English language intriguing, but those on the receiving end of his reprimands saw it as a trivialization of his behavior, bordering on bullying.

The growing number of MPs admonished by the Speaker gave rise to a new group in the Commons: the Bollocked By Bercow Club. Anna Soubry, a former member of the Federation of Conservative Students, encountered Bercow during her time in student politics. When she became an MP in 2010, Bercow reminded her of their past affiliation. Soubry was one of the more vocal backbenchers in what was known as the "naughty corner," a section where Tory MPs sat to the right of the Speaker's eye.

Soubry's outspoken approach was sanctioned by certain members of the frontbench, who encouraged her to be as loud as possible. However, her appointment as PPS to Simon Burns, the Health Minister and Bercow's nemesis, did not endear her to the Speaker. Soubry believes that Bercow projected his own ambitions onto her, assuming she shared his thinking and modus operandi. This resulted in several public humiliations during her time as a government minister.

There are instances when Bercow deliberately singled out individuals for humiliation, which Soubry believes contradicts his otherwise strongly held beliefs. She acknowledges that Bercow's behavior is not only unfair but also unbecoming of someone in such a powerful position. Despite these disagreements, Soubry managed to reconcile with Bercow over the years, earning his respect.

Claire Perry, another Tory MP, found herself on the receiving end of Bercow's rebukes. In a moment of frustration for not being called during a debate, Perry made an offhand remark that was leaked to the media. The incident taught her a valuable lesson about being mindful of one's words. Perry later accused Bercow of sexism after he referred to her remarks on "dilation" during a parliamentary debate. Bercow responded with an offer to meet and clear the air, demonstrating his willingness to resolve conflicts.

The BBB Club continued to grow with each member experiencing their own encounters with Bercow's reprimands. The rebukes upset many on the Conservative side, fueling perceptions of bias against them. Rob Wilson, a Tory MP, went to great lengths to prove this alleged bias by collecting data on Bercow's admonishments. However, Bercow defended his actions, stating that he dealt with misbehavior as it arose, regardless of party affiliation.

Not all Tory MPs had negative experiences with Bercow. Mark Pritchard, for instance, had a confrontational exchange with the Speaker after a mix-up during Business Questions. Although their clash was heated, Pritchard received support and appreciation from fellow MPs, journalists, and even other Speakers in the Commonwealth.

Despite the controversies surrounding Bercow's speakership, he did take action against opposition MPs when necessary. He expelled MPs from the House for various reasons, including accusing colleagues of lying, deliberate deception, and disrespectful behavior. Bercow's actions were not limited to a single party, and he maintained a reputation for allowing backbenchers to have their say.

While Bercow faced accusations of bias, similar allegations have been made against past Speakers. Critics argued that his temperament sometimes hindered the calm atmosphere in the Chamber. However, Bercow's willingness to reconcile and build bridges with his opponents demonstrated his ability to neutralize potential conflicts.

Though Bercow's tenure as Speaker was marked by controversy, he will be remembered as an interesting and fascinating figure. Some may contest his greatness as a Speaker due to his personality and confrontational approach. However, his commitment to providing backbenchers with opportunities to speak and his attempts to maintain fairness cannot be overlooked.