22 Aug 2014 at 10:58
John Bercow has nearly reached the point of no return over the appointment of Carol Mills to succeed Sir Robert Rogers as Chief Clerk of the Commons. The Speaker is going to have to decide whether he wishes to remain in his job or be given the pearl handled revolver and bottle of Whisky. The worst scenario for him would be to insist on her appointment without Parliamentary scrutiny and stand for re election after the election and lose.
As leader of the House William Hague is right not to intervene. This is a Commons matter not one for the executive. There is no love from the Conservative side for Bercow or rather there is a simmering loathing for him. They see him as partisan, patronising and condescending. Whether this is true is not really the point. The Tories never wanted him in the first place and can’t wait to see the back of him. Any manoeuvres from them look party political, which they would be.
But the dynamics have changed. The very people who put him there, heavyweights and former Leaders of the House, Jack Straw and Margaret Beckett are calling for Mills to be subject to a Parliamentary appointment by a select committee. Bercow would be committing political suicide if he doesn’t accept this face saver. After all, he made a speech a couple of years ago urging such a process.
Jack Straw should never be underestimated. He is one of the few surviving big beasts that labour has left. Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary, Minister of Justice and finally Leader of the House. When Jack speaks all parties listen with respect. And he doesn’t shoot from the hip. When he accused Bercow of a politically correct stunt there should be a sharp intake of breath at Speaker’s House. And when Betty Boothroyd, probably the finest Speaker in living memory, weighs in it really is time to take stock. She was right. The Speaker is the servant of Parliament and not the other way round. And when it comes to a pissing completion the Commons will win.
My advice to the Tories who want to get rid of Bercow is to keep a low profile. Leave it to the party who really elected him.
The other day I read a rather disturbing piece by my old friend Steve Richards Who seemed to suggest that in Rogers’ early days the Clerks of the House had a distain for MPs. Well, I was there. Nothing could be further from the truth. I found them and Rogers in particular, spectacularly, bright charming and helpful who truly regarded themselves as servants of the House. Nothing has changed.
I don’t think anyone has any objections if an outsider is brought in to run the services of the Commons. It worked particularly well when a top class administrator was appointed to run catering back in the late eighties. But the job of the House of Commons Clerks is to understand procedure and ensure the smooth running of business. To have the top job you are sitting directly in front of the Chair and would have to advise at a moments notice, then and there. His is the High Priest of Hansard.
And there probably lies the problem. Bercow fancies him self as an expert on Parliamentary procedure and knows the book inside out. And it is not a boast. He is and he does. Perhaps he resented having the opposite side of the argument politely put to him.
And here comes the irony. Michael Martin was kicked out of the Chair because he was regarded as incompetent and kowtowed too much to the wishes of members. Bercow might go because he is too competent and won’t kowtow to the wishes of members.
But it may be too late for a dignified exit as Labour have clearly turned against him. The best he can hope for is a promise of tenure until the election and a seat in the Lords. His chances of being re elected are slender.