Good question, the election of John Bercow as Speaker of the House of Commons is important news for Parliament.
But is it at all important for the rest of us? Here at JCPR towers the news was greeted just as Michael Jackson’s death was a few days later – an important event that has no effect on anyone apart from those with tickets to the shows.
One of the most baffling recent events in British politics was the removal of the previous speaker, Michael Martin. It was a desperate attempt to deflect attention from the real issue of the time: profligacy and moral corruption uncovered in the Telegraph’s MP’s Expenses scoop.
Michael Martin, like John Bercow, was never a big personality. It’s the job of the speaker not to be. When Martin became known, he had to go. No speaker gains mass recognition purely for adjudicating the house well, recognition is only gained for error or unpopularity. Martin was well known because of both.
The job, not the name, is important but how it is carried out is an issue for MP’s – it regulates their contributions in the House. Voters are concerned only with MP’s contributions, not the technicality of how they came about.
Bercow is a personality, and perhaps that’s why he’s unpopular with many MPs. His political transformation from member of the right-wing Monday Club to Thatcherite to an advisor in Gordon Brown’s government indicates a political conscience not dictated by party whips. He won by appealing to the largest faction within the House – the Labour Party. Essentially, he won by campaigning as a politician, not as a celebrity like Widdicome or a stalking horse like Beckett.
Frankly, no-one particularly cared about Bercow’s election and no-one should have. It was always a matter for MPs alone, if Martin had to go then fine but don’t brand his replacement as a reform. It isn’t, nothing has changed. Voters aren’t concerned by the House but by MP’s second homes, a new speaker doesn’t change that.
PS. Here’s Bercow showing his personality too much, a word of warning Mr Speaker : don’t, no-one wants you to be anything but a drab bureaucrat.