By James Melville.
Our first hero of the month award goes to John Bercow who has retired as Speaker of the House of Commons.
When John Bercow was elected Speaker, the Commons had a Labour government, Gordon Brown was prime minister and the country largely had no interest in leaving the EU. Fast forward a decade and he became the highest profile Speaker that this country has ever had.
Speakers usually say very little and adopt a rather cautious approach rather than becoming part of the story. John Bercow tore up the rulebook. He was seen as a divisive figure but undoubtedly became one of Britain’s most important parliamentarians of modern times. He became almost a one man roadblock to ensure the defence of parliamentary sovereignty.
Bercow was a parliamentary reformist and moderniser. He opened parliament up for visitors and increased its educational remit to the outside world. In the Commons chamber, he consistently championed the voices and campaigns of backbench MPs. He allowed prime minister’s questions to extend to an hour. He pioneered the use of urgent questions and emergency debates to ensure that big issues were debated by parliament, often to the inconvenience of government. On Brexit, he was always ready and willing to challenge the government when they wilfully ignored parliamentary procedure to ensure that parliamentary sovereignty was protected.
Yes, his combative style wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Critics accused him of lacking neutrality. But his critics tended to come from politicians who were upset that he refused to subserviently let them get their way. Since the EU referendum in 2016, he, along with Gina Miller has done more than anyone to ensure that parliament retained the right to remain sovereign, despite facing enormous pressures from influential Brexiters and the government to undermine or bypass parliamentary sovereignty.
John Bercow was not some sort of traitor who tried to thwart democracy. He did the exact opposite. He robustly defended our parliamentary democracy. He kept our parliamentary sovereignty in “order” through turbulent times. And we should be extremely thankful of that.
Hear hear Mr Speaker.