On September 8th, Speaker of the House John Bercow announced he will be resigning as Speaker either on October 31st or if an early election was called, whichever came first. With the longest term by a Speaker since Edward FitzRoy stood down in 1943, he has been in his role through four Prime Ministers, the aftershocks of the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression, and the most tumultuous time in British politics that any of us can remember.
While Mr Bercow has received criticisms of perceived bias towards certain issues or his bullying allegations (which he staunchly denies), in his public life, pre-Speaker parliamentary career, and his life outside of the House of Commons, his actions are those of a man to whom the highest respect should be given. He acts as the patron for multiple charities and has done fantastic work to help those with autism, he was resigned from the shadow cabinet of Iain Duncan Smith and voted against the whip in order to support the right of unmarried people and same-sex couples to adopt children, he pushed through immense criticism to have Rose Hudson-Wilkins as the first black female Chaplain to the Speaker, and he has continued to help educate people (and especially young people) on politics and Parliament.
And to be clear, I don’t think he’s been perfect, I don’t like his voting in favour of the Iraq War, I don’t appreciate his role in the Expenses scandal, and the lack of response to that, and the bullying allegations are too strong to completely dismiss. However, those are minor issues in the life of a politician who has continued to ensure that Parliament continues to operate properly, in a time when governments continue to place their interests over the conventions that have stood for hundreds of years. Bercow has kept Parliament as a representation of the people, and not merely a tool for complete executive control of the nation.
It is interesting that though his name was made as a Tory MP, as it has been the Conservatives who Mr Bercow has come into the most conflict with, such as when he supported Parliament over the Government with matters such as with the Cooper-Letwin Bill or the Meaningful Votes. And so, I honestly believe that the Conservative party refusing to stand and applaud his statement to the house, and the post-resignation announcement criticism from sources which are more in line with the views of the party who have been in power for most of his time as Speaker, are perfectly indicative of what makes Mr Bercow such an exemplary Speaker.
He is a parliamentarian who has placed Parliament’s sovereignty over party politcis. As numerous MPs said in the aftermath of his resignation announcement MPs must be given the power to speak out and criticise as they need to. To paraphrase his pre-election sentiments, Parliament isn’t just there to rubber-stamp the present Government, but should criticise, oppose, and contradict that Government. Mr Bercow has kept that promise about as well as he could have been asked.
With his actions throughout his career, he represents something which is tragically getting closer to extinction: a politician who cares about his office and the respect it brings, who treated Parliament properly as the sovereign power it is, and who made sure that all MPs, and hence all people of our nation, could get their voices heard. To echo Jeremy Corbyn’s statement, our Parliament is stronger for having him as speaker, our democracy is stronger for having him as speaker, and many, many people will be thankful for that, I know I personally very much am.