John Bercow: A symbol of British parliamentary democracy bows out | Brexit news

While the Speaker of the Parliament of the United Kingdom has become something of a celebrity on social networks thanks to his bark “Order, Order! To calm MPs, historians will assess John Bercow as having had a more sober impact on British democracy.

The intransigent Bercow was unusually close to tears on Wednesday as MPs paid tribute to a figure who has become a symbol of parliamentary sovereignty who is now stepping down after a decade in the post.

That didn’t stop outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson from firing farewell blows at his Tory colleague, claiming he had acted not just as a referee “but” sometimes as a full-fledged player “with the aim of characterizing Bercow as biased.

Johnson, like many members of the ruling party, saw the president as a thorn in the side of Downing Street’s efforts to push Brexit forward with minimal parliamentary oversight.

However, it may distort Bercow’s role in shaping the Brexit debate as crass impartiality – even though the speaker stoked anger when he revealed he voted against leaving the European Union. in the 2016 British referendum.

“John Bercow was never impartial – but his bias was to protect Parliament, not a particular party and he must be remembered for that,” said Mark Shanahan, head of the politics and international relations department of the University of Reading.

“His legacy will be that of a reforming orator – but it will not be a blemish-free legacy. He has done a lot to change the way Parliament works.

Procedural “fluidity”

Marc Geddes, senior lecturer in UK politics at the University of Edinburgh, said Bercow can be assessed in particular by how he chaired the House of Commons in a changing political landscape.

“He allowed more backbenchers to speak, so his appeal has always been that he would be the backbench champion and a lot of people think he did. Geddes noted.

He added that by allowing more procedural “fluidity”, notably by allowing amendments to motions that would not have been modified before, Bercow had a “lasting impact”.

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His main legacy will be to enable MPs to ask hundreds of more “urgent questions” than his predecessors and to initiate debates on topical issues.

This is what culminated in the Benn Law – a key law that Bercow allowed to speed up and which forced Johnson to seek an extension of the October 31 Brexit deadline against the PM’s will.

Geddes said: “John Bercow has allowed substantive debates on issues that paved the way, for example, for the passage of the Benn Act – so this is an area where he probably specifically changed the course of Brexit , but also changed parliamentary procedures. “

A characteristic feature of Bercow’s tenure was his taste for its power of interpretation procedures, may be reflecting his understanding of how the role of the speaker has changed, according to Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University in London.

“He realizes that the work of the speaker in the 21st century in a ‘post-truth world’, if you will, has changed and that if he just did what others did before him, Parliament would be. each time foiled by a government that is not ready to play by normal rules.

Some observers have attributed Bercow’s frequent run-ins with his own party to the “ideological journey” he appears to have taken away from his hard-right-conservative roots to the political center.

However, Bercow himself insisted he only had one allegiance, once stating: “If I am biased, I am biased in favor of parliament.”

This commitment to the President’s role as Parliament’s champion has manifested itself at a time of growing tensions between the legislature and the executive, as Johnson – and his predecessor Theresa May – sought to minimize scrutiny of their Brexit plans.

This was very evident in Bercow’s reaction to Johnson’s decision to “prorogue” Parliament through a five-week suspension in the critical perspective of the original October 31 deadline.

With characteristic vigor, the speaker called the move a “constitutional contempt” to gag MPs, stepping up protests across the country against what some have called a “coup”.

Humble beginnings

The son of a taxi driver, Bercow, 56, was first elected Conservative MP in 1997, before finally being chosen by parliament as president in 2009.

He was the first person in this post since World War II to have been elected to this post four times and to have served alongside four prime ministers.

Despite the respect he gained for being a champion of parliament, other aspects of his career related to how he handled parliamentary administration have been less admired.

He has been accused of staff intimidation, and a 2018 investigation identified a culture of harassment in the House of Commons “cascading up and down” in a clear nod to the speaker.

Geddes said: “John Bercow is probably associated with that and it’s a very negative legacy and I think a lot of people ignore it.”

Shanahan said Bercow had failed to change some entrenched attitudes in parliament.

“His time in the President’s chair will always be marked by his reputation as a bully and someone who has never quite wreaked havoc on Westminster’s’ public school boys’ club ‘culture.”

At the same time, Bercow has made parliament a much more egalitarian environment – by setting up a crèche, for example, and changed the way clerks operate to eliminate much of the “commotion and rascality”.

Those familiar with Bercow refer to a smart and quick-witted man, and many residents of his Buckingham constituency like Shanahan have said he is an effective local MP.

“Personally, I get along very well with John who is my MP and who has been brilliant with my students. Professionally, I have always found him to be very open, courteous and pleasant to deal with.

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