John Bercow

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The Right Honourable
 John Bercow
 MP


Incumbent
Assumed office 
22 June 2009
Monarch Elizabeth II
Preceded by Michael Martin

In office
6 November 2003 – 23 September 2004
Leader Michael Howard
Preceded by Caroline Spelman
Succeeded by Alan Duncan

In office
18 September 2001 – 23 July 2002
Leader Iain Duncan Smith
Preceded by Oliver Letwin
Succeeded by Howard Flight

Incumbent
Assumed office 
1 May 1997
Preceded by George Walden
Majority 12,529 (25.9%)

Born 19 January 1963 (1963-01-19) (age 56)
Edgware, Middlesex, England
Nationality British
Political party Not applicable
Other political
affiliations
Conservative (1986–2009)
Spouse(s) Sally Bercow (née Illman)
Children Oliver
Freddie
Jemima
Residence London
Alma mater University of Essex
Religion Judaism

John Simon Bercow (born 19 January 1963) is a British politician who has been the Speaker of the House of Commons since June 2009. Prior to his election to Speaker he was a member of the Conservative Party.

Bercow was born in Middlesex into a Jewish family and graduated from the University of Essex in 1985. In his youth, Bercow was active in the Conservative Party and was a member of several right-wing groups within the party. He served as a Councillor from 1986–1990 and unsuccessfully contested parliamentary seats in the 1987 and 1992 General Elections. In the 1997 General Election, Bercow was elected the MP for Buckingham and promoted to the shadow cabinet in 2001, held posts in the Shadow Cabinets of Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard. In November 2002, he resigned from the Shadow Cabinet over disputes with the Adoption and Children Act but returned under Michael Howard in 2003. In September 2004, Bercow was sacked from the Shadow Cabinet over disagreements with leader Michael Howard.

Following the resignation of the Speaker Michael Martin, Bercow announced his intention to stand for the Speakership election on 22 June 2009 and was successful. He was re-elected to this post on 18 May 2010 following unsuccessful challenges in the General Election.[1]

Early life and career

Bercow was born to a British Jewish family in Edgware, Middlesex.[2] His paternal grandparents were Jews who arrived in Britain from Romania a century ago.[3][4] The son of a taxi driver, Bercow attended Frith Manor Primary School in Woodside Park, and Finchley Manorhill, a large comprehensive school in North Finchley.

In his youth, Bercow had been ranked Britain's No.1 junior tennis player. However a bout of glandular fever ended his chances of pursuing a career as a professional tennis player.[5]

Bercow graduated with a First Class Honours degree in Government from the University of Essex in 1985.[6] Professor Anthony King remembers: "When he was a student here, he was very right-wing, pretty stroppy, and very good. He was an outstanding student."[6]

As a young activist, Bercow was a member of the right-wing Conservative Monday Club, becoming Secretary of its Immigration and Repatriation Committee. However at the age of 20 he left the club, citing the views of many of the club's members as his reason.[7] In 1981 Bercow had stood as a candidate for the national executive of the Monday Club and called for a programme of "assisted repatriation" of immigrants.[8]

After graduating from university, Bercow was elected as the last National Chairman of the Federation of Conservative Students (FCS) from 1986–87.[6] The FCS was then broken up by the Chairman of the Conservative Party, Norman Tebbit, reportedly for being too right-wing. Bercow attracted the attention of the Conservative leadership, and in 1987 he was appointed by Tebbit as Vice-Chairman of the Conservative Collegiate Forum (the successor organisation of the FCS) to head the campaign for student support in the run-up to the 1987 General Election.

After a spell in merchant banking, Bercow joined the lobbying firm Rowland Sallingbury Casey (part of Saatchi & Saatchi) in 1988, becoming a board director within five years.

With fellow Conservative Dr Julian Lewis, Bercow ran an Advanced Speaking and Campaigning course for over ten years, which trained over 600 Conservatives (including several current MPs) in campaigning and communication techniques. He has also lectured in the United States to students of the Leadership Institute.[9]

Political career

Councillor

In 1986, Bercow was elected as a Conservative Councillor in the London Borough of Lambeth. He served as a Councillor for four years. In 1987, he was appointed the youngest Deputy Group Leader in the United Kingdom.[10]

Special adviser

In 1995, Bercow was appointed as a Special Adviser to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Jonathan Aitken. After Aitken's resignation to fight a libel action, Bercow served as a Special Adviser to the Secretary of State for National Heritage, Virginia Bottomley.

Parliamentary career

Bercow was an unsuccessful Conservative candidate in the 1987 General Election in Motherwell, and again at the 1992 General Election in Bristol South. In 1996, he paid £1,000 to hire a helicopter so that he could attend the selection meetings for two safe Conservative parliamentary seats on the same day – Buckingham and Surrey Heath – and was selected as the candidate for Buckingham. He has referred to the hiring of the helicopter as "the best £1,000 I have ever spent".[10]

Bercow was first elected to Parliament in the 1997 General Election as the MP for Buckingham with a majority of 12,386. He then increased his majority, having been re-elected at the 2005 General Election by a margin of 18,129 votes. He was also re-elected at the 2010 General Election, but with a reduced majority of 12,529 votes.

Bercow rose quickly through the opposition's junior offices. He was appointed a frontbench spokesman for Education and Employment in June 1999, and then a frontbench spokesman for Home Affairs in July 2000, before being brought into the Shadow Cabinet in 2001 by the Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith. He served as Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury from September 2001 – July 2002, and as Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions from July–November 2002. During this first spell on the front bench, Bercow publicly stated that he did not think he was ruthless enough to reach the top of politics.[11] In November 2002, when the Labour government introduced the Adoption and Children Act which would allow unmarried gay and heterosexual couples to adopt children, Duncan Smith imposed a three-line whip requiring Conservative MPs to vote against the bill rather than allowing a free vote. In protest, Bercow defied the whips and voted with the government arguing that it should be a free vote. He then resigned from the front bench.[12] As a backbencher he was openly critical of Duncan Smith's leadership, declaring that he was about as likely to "meet an Eskimo in the desert" as Duncan Smith was to win the next general election.[13]

In November 2003, the new Conservative Leader Michael Howard appointed Bercow as Shadow Secretary of State for International Development. However he went on to clash with Howard over taxes, immigration and Iraq,[14] and was sacked from the frontbench in September 2004 after telling Howard that Ann Widdecombe was right to have said that there was "something of the night about him".[15]

Bercow has a long-standing interest in Burma and frequently raised issues of democracy and genocide in the country. In 2006 he was made a Patron of the Tory Reform Group.[16] In 2001, he also supported the ban on MPs becoming members of the Monday Club, an organisation of which he is a former member (see above).[17]

Bercow was formerly the Treasurer of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tribal Peoples,[18] an APPG composed of over 30 cross-party MPs who aim to raise parliamentary and public awareness of tribal peoples.[19]

Opposition MP of the Year

In 2005, Bercow won the Channel Four/Hansard Society Political Award for 'Opposition MP of the Year'. He said:

I shall treasure this award and I am extremely grateful to my colleagues for it. Winning it has raised the question of what is good opposition. I think that the public is fed up with one politician simply ranting at another politician for the sake of it. The public deserves to see a more measured and constructive approach to politics. In addition to pursuing a wide variety of local issues, I have attempted to question, probe and scrutinise the Government in the House of Commons on important national and international topics which concern people. Over the last 12 months, I have constantly pressed the case for reform of world trade rules to give the poorest people on the planet a chance to sell their products and improve their quality of life. The plight of the people of Darfur, Western Sudan, has also been a regular theme. They have suffered too much for too long with too little done about the situation. I shall go on arguing for Britain to take the lead in the international community in seeking decisive action for peace and justice.[20]

Rumours of defection

Following the defection of Conservative MP Quentin Davies to the Labour Party in June 2007, there were persistent Westminster rumours[21] that Bercow was likely to be the next Conservative MP to leave the Party.

Despite these rumours, Bercow did not defect to the Labour Party. However, in September 2007, Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that Bercow had accepted an advisory post on the Labour government's review of support for children with speech, language and communication special needs. The Conservative Party Chairman, Caroline Spelman, confirmed that this appointment was with the consent of the Conservative Party.[22] Bercow had a long-term interest in this topic. As he mentioned in a speech in the House of Commons on 1 February 2008,[23] his son Oliver has been diagnosed with autism.

The Bercow Review

In 2008, John Bercow was asked by Labour Cabinet members Ed Balls and Alan Johnson to produce a substantial review of children and families affected by speech, language and communication needs (SLCN). After the report, the government pledged £52 million to raise the profile of SLCN within the education field.

The review looks at the extreme consequences that communication problems can lead to – from initial frustration at not being able to express oneself, to bullying or being bullied at school, fewer job prospects and even the descent into criminality.[24][25]

The interim report highlighted a number of core issues: that speech, language and communication are not only essential life skills but fundamental human rights; that early identification of problems and intervention is important to avoid social problems later on; and that the current system of treatment is patchy, i.e. there is a need for services to be continually provided for children and families from an early age.[26][27]

Role in expenses scandal

Until 2008/09 Bercow usually claimed the maximum available amount for the 'Additional Costs Allowance' to pay for the cost of staying away from his main home. However in 2007/08 and 2008/09 his total expenses were amongst the lowest claimed by MPs (coming 631st and 640th respectively, out of 645 and 647).[28]

During the 2009 parliamentary expenses scandal, it was revealed that Bercow changed the designation of his second home on more than one occasion – meaning that he avoided paying capital gains tax on the sale of two properties. He also claimed just under £1,000 to hire an accountant to fill in his tax returns. Bercow denied any wrongdoing, but agreed to pay £6,508 to cover any tax which he may have had to pay to HM Revenue and Customs.[29]

Speaker of the House of Commons

Bercow had long campaigned quietly to become Speaker[30] and was touted as a successor to Michael Martin. On 20 May 2009, he officially announced his intention to stand in the Speakership election which had been triggered by Martin's resignation, and launched his manifesto for the job.[31] In the first round of the election on 22 June, Bercow received 179 votes – more than any other candidate, but short of the majority required for victory. In the third and final round of voting later that day, he defeated Sir George Young by 322 votes to 271,[32] and was approved by the Queen at 10 pm that night as the 157th Speaker.

Bercow's election as Speaker was controversial because he is believed to have had the support of very few MPs from his own Party. Fellow Conservative MPs generally viewed Bercow with distrust because of his changing political views (having moved over the years from being very right-wing to become more socially liberal, leading to clashes with past party leaders), his acceptance of an advisory role from the Labour government (a party he had often been rumoured to be on the verge of joining), his general lack of good relations with fellow MPs from his own party, and his vigorous campaigning for the Speaker's job. It has been speculated that he received the votes of as few as three of his fellow Conservative MPs. However he received the votes of a large number of Labour MPs, many of whom were angered at the way they perceived Michael Martin to have been hounded out of the job and wanted his replacement to be someone who was not a favourite of the Conservative Party.[33][34]

Bercow is the first Jewish Speaker,[35] the first Speaker to have been elected by an exhaustive ballot, and the first Speaker not to wear traditional court robes while presiding over the House of Commons.[36]

According to some MPs, Conservatives believe that Bercow has behaved in a biased manner as Speaker.[37]

However, in accordance with tradition, Bercow does now display his coat of arms at Speaker's House.[38]

In July 2014, David Cameron-Levita claimed the British Parliament is too white and John Bercow agreed.[39] What if he had said, "There's too many jews in Parliament" or "There's too many blacks in Parliament" or "There's too many muslims in Parliament"? He would be impeached! But hating your own nation's people is allowed.

Speaker's residence controversy

Within weeks of taking office as Speaker, Bercow ordered a redecoration and refurbishment of the Speaker's grace and favour apartment in the Palace of Westminster, buying a large television and a DVD player; the work cost £20,659 and was paid for by Parliament. It followed previous extensive work on the apartment under the previous Speaker.[40] Publicity was given to a bill of more than £600 for food and drink in the Palace of Westminster in April 2010, when the Financial Controller of the House of Commons wrote informing Bercow that there were "items which have been outstanding for at least two months" on it; it was paid later in the month.[41]

2010 General Election

The Speaker of the House of Commons is traditionally seen as outside party politics, and is often not challenged by main parties at general elections, including the 2010 general election. In September 2009 Nigel Farage resigned his leadership of the United Kingdom Independence Party to challenge Bercow, asserting: "This man represents all that is wrong with British politics today. He was embroiled in the expenses saga and he presides over a Parliament that virtually does nothing."[42][43] John Stevens, another candidate, found support for his campaign from Martin Bell.[44] Bercow also faced opposition from the British National Party and the Christian Party.[45]

As Bercow lacked a formal party endorsement and therefore a campaign team, he sought to build one and a group of his supporters known as 'Friends of Speaker Bercow' solicited donations for the campaign. They aimed to raise £40,000. When one of their letters was received by a member of the UK Independence Party, the recipient referred it to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, complaining that it appeared that Bercow's fundraising campaign was operating from the Speaker's Office which had to remain politically neutral.[46] The Commissioner declined to launch an investigation because of the lack of evidence of involvement of the Speaker's Office.[47]

1911 Centenary Lectures

To mark the centenary of the Parliament Act 1911, Bercow commissioned a series of 11 lectures throughout 2011 which covered some of the main political figures of the century. Each lecture was given to an invited audience in Speaker's House and was recorded for broadcast on BBC Parliament. The subjects were:[48]

Great Offices of State Lectures

Following the centenary lectures, Bercow instituted a new 11 lecture series for 2012 on the subject of the 'Great Offices of State' (those of Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary). In introducing the first lecture, Bercow noted that his assistant had spotted that there were 11 sitting Members who had served in one or more of these offices but had not been Prime Minister, and that all had accepted his invitation to give a lecture. The lecturers were:

  • Kenneth Clarke (Home Secretary 1992-93, Chancellor of the Exchequer 1993-97), 24 January
  • Alistair Darling (Chancellor of the Exchequer 2007-10), 20 February
  • Theresa May (Home Secretary since 2010), 26 March

Future lecturers are Margaret Beckett (Foreign Secretary 2006-07), David Blunkett (2001-04), William Hague (Foreign Secretary since 2010), Alan Johnson (Home Secretary 2009-10), David Miliband (Foreign Secretary 2007-10), George Osborne (Chancellor of the Exchequer since 2010) and Jack Straw (Home Secretary 1997-2001, Foreign Secretary 2001-06).

References

  1. The Speaker of the House, although an elected member of Parliament, is considered to be outside party politics and therefore not usually opposed in General Elections
  2. Elgot, Jessica. "New Jewish ministers and the Miliband rivalry". The Jewish Chronicle. http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/31823/new-jewish-ministers-and-miliband-rivalry. 
  3. Woolf, Marie (2 August 2004). "John Bercow: 'I have been to Sudan ... seen the poorest people on the planet. They need our help'". The Independent. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/john-bercow-i-have-been-to-sudan--seen-the-poorest-people-on-the-planet-they-need-our-help-551108.html. Retrieved 12 March 2008. 
  4. Rayner, Gordon (26 June 2009). "Speaker John Bercow called for 'assisted repatriation' of immigrants". The Daily Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/conservative/5651054/Speaker-John-Bercow-called-for-assisted-repatriation-of-immigrants.html. Retrieved 29 June 2009. 
  5. The 10 who want to be called Mr Speaker, East Anglian Daily Times, 17 June 2009
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Essex graduate new speaker, Colchester Campus, Government, 23 June 2009. University of Essex (23 June 2009). Retrieved on 30 November 2010.
  7. Isaby, Jonathan (4 November 2002). "Profile: John Bercow". BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/2396507.stm. Retrieved 28 January 2009. 
  8. Rayner, Gordon; Bingham, John (10 July 2010). "Speaker John Bercow called for 'assisted repatriation' of immigrants". The Daily Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/conservative/5651054/Speaker-John-Bercow-called-for-assisted-repatriation-of-immigrants.html. Retrieved 11 July 2010. 
  9. John Bercow: Little Mr Turncoat in an awfully big chair, The Sunday Times, 28 June 2009
  10. 10.0 10.1 Wheeler, Brian (24 June 2009). "The John Bercow story". BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8114399.stm. Retrieved 30 November 2010. 
  11. Sam Coates, "Burning ambition of man who won in spite of his own party", The Times, 23 June 2009, p 6.
  12. "Tory resigns over adoption vote". BBC News. 4 November 2002. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/2396213.stm. Retrieved 24 November 2007. 
  13. Brian Reade – News Columnists. Daily Mirror (18 November 2010). Retrieved on 30 November 2010.
  14. Bercow Says He's Relieved to Quit U.K. Conservatives bloomberg.com, 26 June 2009
  15. Profile: Commons Speaker, John Bercow, The Guardian, 22 June 2009
  16. About People page, Tory Reform Group
  17. "Tory MPs resign from far-right club". BBC News. 7 October 2001. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_depth/uk_politics/1584463.stm. Retrieved 24 November 2007. 
  18. (2010) Dod's parliamentary companion. Dod's Parliamentary Companion Ltd., 1025. ISBN 0905702891. 
  19. All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tribal Peoples website. Appg-tribalpeoples.org.uk. Retrieved on 30 November 2010.
  20. "Opposition MP of the Year for 2005". Buckingham Conservative Association. 8 February 2005. http://www.buckinghamconservative.co.uk/ourmp_opposition.htm. Retrieved 24 November 2007. 
  21. "Bercow defection is expected at time of maximum embarrassment". ConservativeHome.com. 14 July 2007. http://conservativehome.blogs.com/torydiary/2007/07/bercow-defectio.html. Retrieved 24 November 2007. 
  22. "Mercer and Bercow to advise Brown". BBC News. 3 September 2007. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/6975708.stm. Retrieved 24 November 2007. 
  23. House of Commons Hansard Debates for 1 Feb 2008 (pt 0004). Publications.parliament.uk (1 February 2008). Retrieved on 30 November 2010.
  24. The Bercow Review. Retrieved on 11 February 2011.
  25. (2008) The Bercow Report. Department for Education (UK). Retrieved on 11 February 2011. 
  26. Bercow Review: Speech, Language & Communication Services for Children and Young People Must Improve. Department for Children, Schools and Families. Retrieved on 11 February 2011.
  27. (2008) Bercow Review of Services for Children and Young people (0–19) with Speech, Language and Communication Needs – Interim Report. Department for Education (UK). Retrieved on 11 February 2011. 
  28. John Bercow MP, Buckingham. TheyWorkForYou.com. Retrieved on 30 November 2010.
  29. Rayner, Gordon (23 June 2009). "Speaker election: John Bercow's expenses claims back in spotlight". The Daily Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/mps-expenses/5606352/Speaker-election-John-Bercows-expenses-claims-back-in-spotlight.html. Retrieved 6 May 2010. 
  30. Carr, Simon (29 February 2008). "The Sketch: Bercow makes a play for the big chair". The Independent. http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/simon-carr/the-sketch-bercow-makes-a-play-for-the-big-chair-789345.html. Retrieved 6 May 2010. 
  31. Watt, Nicholas (20 May 2009). "John Bercow says he is ready for the Speaker's role". The Guardian (UK). http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/may/20/commons-speaker-michael-martin-john-bercow. Retrieved 20 May 2009. 
  32. Election of the Speaker. News.parliament.uk (21 April 2010). Retrieved on 30 November 2010.
  33. Farewell to tights as new Speaker John Bercow presides over Commons, The Times, 24 June 2009
  34. Laws, sausages, speakers, The Economist, 25 June 2009
  35. British lawmakers elect first Jewish speaker. JTA (23 June 2009). Retrieved on 30 November 2010.
  36. Webster, Philip (24 June 2009). "Farewell to tights as new Speaker John Bercow presides over Commons". The Times. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article6565099.ece. Retrieved 6 May 2010. 
  37. Watson, Roland (7 February 2011). "UK speaker urged to back disabled MP". http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/world/uk-speaker-urged-to-back-disabled-mp/story-e6frg6so-1226001390316. 
  38. Speaker Bercow's coat of arms
  39. MPs are too white, says David Cameron at The Telegraph
  40. Porter, Andrew (4 August 2009). "MPs' expenses: speaker John Bercow's £20,000 bill for apartment". The Daily Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/mps-expenses/5974009/MPs-expenses-speaker-John-Bercows-20000-bill-for-apartment.html. Retrieved 6 May 2010. 
  41. Watt, Holly (28 April 2010). "General Election 2010: Speaker John Bercow warned over Parliament bar bill". The Daily Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/election-2010/7642219/General-Election-2010-Speaker-John-Bercow-warned-over-Parliament-bar-bill.html. Retrieved 6 May 2010. 
  42. Farage to stand against Bercow. The Spectator. Retrieved on 30 November 2010.
  43. Smith, Jon (3 September 2009). "Farage to stand against speaker Bercow". The Independent. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/farage-to-stand-against-speaker-bercow-1781152.html. Retrieved 6 May 2010. 
  44. "In Buckingham, the Bell tolls for Blair". The Independent. 16 April 2010. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/in-buckingham-the-bell-tolls-for-blair-1946381.html. Retrieved 20 April 2010. 
  45. "Buckingham". BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/election2010/results/constituency/a79.stm. Retrieved 6 May 2010. 
  46. Jagger, Suzy; Baldwin, Tom (25 February 2010). "Complaint over fundraising letter from Friends of Speaker Bercow". The Times. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article7040324.ece. Retrieved 6 May 2010. 
  47. No inquiry into actions of Friends of Speaker Bercow – Local. Bucks Herald. Retrieved on 30 November 2010.
  48. "Speaker's lectures: Centenary of the Parliament Act". BBC Parliament. 9 December 2011. http://news.bbc.co.uk/democracylive/hi/house_of_commons/newsid_9487000/9487828.stm. 

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Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
George Walden
Member of Parliament for Buckingham
1997–present
Incumbent
Preceded by
Michael Martin
Speaker of the House of Commons
2009–present
Incumbent
Order of precedence in England and Wales
Preceded by
Nick Clegg
as Lord President of the Council
Gentlemen
as Speaker of the House of Commons
Succeeded by
The Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers
as President of the Supreme Court
Order of precedence in Scotland
Preceded by
David Cameron
as Prime Minister
Gentlemen
as Speaker of the House of Commons
Succeeded by
Alex Salmond
as Keeper of the Great Seal of Scotland
Order of precedence in Northern Ireland
Preceded by
Nick Clegg
as Lord President of the Council
Gentlemen
as Speaker of the House of Commons
Succeeded by
The Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers
as President of the Supreme Court
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