Monday, July 04, 2011

Cameron and Bercow

It is patently obvious that David Cameron has very little time for John Bercow, as was clearly shown in last week's PMQs. There was a piece in the Observer that tried to get to the bottom of quite why this is, under the headline:
Trouble in the House: is a bitter class divide fuelling David Cameron's dislike of Commons Speaker John Bercow?
The implication being, basically, that it is the fact that John Bercow is a jumped-up little oik that has earned him Cameron's enmity. But there are two very good reasons why Cameron should dislike Bercow. The first is the party loyalty one: Bercow was an exceptionally uncollegiate Tory. Even before he began his campaign to become Speaker, he had been assiduously cultivating Labour ministers while simultaneously being remarkably rude to fellow Tory MPs in and out of the House. He was definitionally unsound. As Paul Goodman saw it from the backbenches:
Afternoon after afternoon, there was Bercow, shaking his head doubtfully while Conservative spokesman asked, nodding approvingly when Labour Ministers answered, rising time after time to blast, belittle or belabour his Party's official position - perched strategically all the while in a camera-friendly place a couple of rows or behind the Opposition Despatch Box.  It was hostile; worse still, from the Whips' point of view, it was uncollegiate - unprecedentedly so.
That in itself would be enough to explain a degree of froideur from Tory High Command. Couple it to Labour's mischievous installation of Bercow as Speaker (with, perhaps, 2 Tory supporters) and you have a perfectly good explanation of tensions between the Speaker (who is, after all, meant to be impartial) and No. 10. But there's a personal side to this as well. In 2005 Bercow, as a prominent Ken Clarke supporter said the following
"In the modern world, the combination of Eton, hunting, shooting and lunch at [the exclusive club] White's is not helpful when you are trying to appeal to millions of ordinary people."
Even in the context of a leadership election, this sort of thing is pretty below the belt.
Personal animosity aside, what's going to happen? A Prime Minister and a Speaker at loggerheads is not a common event - is it tenable in the long term? There's a good discussion here about the betting implications of the problem. Mike Smithson contemplates the Tories running a candidate against Bercow in Buckingham at the next election. I think that's pretty far-fetched. Much more likely (though still not certain) is that the role of Speaker is reformed such that the Speaker faces re-election, by secret ballot, at the start of each Parliament. Either way, it's not a great state of affairs, for there to be such mutual antipathy between Speaker and Government.


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