Greedy Bercow could never resist an advantage
During his sadly long tenure as Speaker of the House, John Bercow took great public pride in being a reformer.
He put aside the official insignia that had helped for centuries elevate former incumbents above the partisan fray of the Commons – and their commitment to studious neutrality with them.
Yet even then there were very obvious limits to Bercow’s reformist zeal. Radical about his responsibilities, he has taken a decidedly conservative approach to his privileges.
For example, he bumped into at least one MP because he expected them to step aside for him as he and his entourage walked through the halls of Westminster – an odd request for someone supposed to be committed to a more modern and egalitarian approach to their role. .
Likewise, his bold campaign against the President’s traditional aversion to the spotlight has not been matched by any attempt to reform access to benefits and giveaways.
It’s the same story since he finally left office. There was something particularly uninspiring about the spectacle of a man as deliberately progressive and “radical” as Bercow complaining in the media about not receiving the peerage which is the “traditional” reward of a former speaker.
This is all the more true as Bercow almost certainly takes the fashionable point of view of the House of Lords, which wants it to be elected or abolished.
It is therefore absolutely no surprise to anyone with the measure of the man that Bercow has once again put his wallet before his piety by claiming his pension from Speakers in advance.
Until 2013, the president was one of the few roles that could claim half of their last salary in the form of an annual pension – and from the time they also resigned.
David Cameron and Ken Clarke decided it would be a terrible idea to agree to such a deal in the midst of the financial crash, and avoided them. Bercow, of course, did not. But he told the world he wouldn’t claim the money until he hit the normal retirement age of 65.
Now it turns out he actually took it from the moment he left office.
Its justifications are laughable. Calls for the “practice of my predecessors” ring hollow given the contempt with which he treated their example when he was actually serving.
Worse, however, is his claim that he did it because “the Johnson government ‘was breaking conventions and promises to the left, right and center’.” Bercow, a stalwart defender of parliamentary standards – when there are tens of thousands of pounds a year at stake.
But why should we care? Hypocrisy is certainly frustrating, and the government could be applauded if it had to reform this pension to eliminate it. But Bercow is the man of yesterday, much to his frustration.
However, the problem with Bercow was never limited to his personal failings. He thinks very badly about the system that enthroned him and supported him in his functions.
This goes back to the beginning of his presidency. Chris Mullin, the former Labor MP, noted in his diaries how his fellow parliamentarians knowingly broke the conventions governing the role of electing a president who they knew would cause problems for the new Conservative-led government.
Likewise, allegations of bullying against Bercow were systematically ignored by MPs who placed greater value on an openly partisan president helping fight Brexit for the well-being of parliamentary staff.
It is important that we do not write all of this as an anomalous product of the unique conditions of the last Parliament. Sir Lindsay Hoyle can grace the president’s chair, and a strong majority gets much of the heat from the Commons votes, but the forces that launched the last Bercow could yet produce another. Those who defend the standards and dignity of Parliament must be vigilant.
Meanwhile, the man himself lives only as a caricature of the worst kind of reformer, a true Sir Godber Evans – the master songwriter of Tom Sharpe. Doorman blue who fired all the servants… except his own.