John Stevens is a former Conservative Member of European Parliament who stood at the last general election as an independent candidate against John Bercow.
Andrew Gimson has written, it seems to me, a curiously cocooned and complacent piece on the recent travails of the Speaker. He concluded it by comparing the minor damage that might have been done to the status of Parliament through the Carol Mills affair to the much more major damage that may accrue should the Scots vote for independence next week. It is a pity that he did not explore the linkage between the two.
The SNP, like UKIP, owe a significant portion of their present prominence not to the detail of the specific issues which are their basic raison d’etre – hatred of “rule from London”, or “rule from Brussels” – but a more general popular contempt for current Westminster parliamentarians. The target is the supposedly principle- and conviction-free pursuit of power to preserve their own privileges and pensions, rather than to serve the national interest, whether that be defined as Scottish, or British. The ‘LibLabCon’ epithet so favoured by many who post on this site is its expression.
This is demonstrated by the fact that before the expenses scandal arose, it was widely anticipated that both UKIP and the SNP would fall back in the 2009 European elections. In the event, that contest, fought in the shadow of the controversy, proved to be the start of both parties’ recent rise. UKIP broke through to come second in the country. The SNP broke through to come first in Scotland. At the subsequent General Election, these sentiments were masked by the impact of the television debates and Nick Clegg’s fleeting grasp of the anti-establishment banner.
However, on the ground in Buckingham, (one of the safest Conservative seats in the country, it must be remembered) much of Nigel Farage’s strong appeal obviously arose from the perception that John Bercow encapsulated much of what people have come to most dislike in modern politicians. His almost unbelievably extensive odyssey of belief from the hard right to the soft centre. His apparently truly exceptional dedication to deriving the maximum advantage from the system of emoluments. A career seemingly most singularly centered on personal, rather than political priorities. Against these negative impressions, weighty positive considerations of assiduous constituency engagement, for example, were frequently found wanting.
These were chill breezes of revolt in a small corner of England, which have since become whipped up into a revolutionary whirlwind which might blow away the nation. Whatever happens in Scotland next week, the need for radical parliamentary and party reform cannot be evaded any longer. Mere enhancement of the Committee system, or more attention to back-benchers’ concerns, John Bercow’s clear achievements in the chair, do not remotely meet the case.
The Speaker has the privilege of being the principal figurehead of our contemporary democratic process. But he also carries the burden of being its prisoner. It seems impossible to believe that either he personally, or even his office as it is currently conceived, can be any part of the fundamental changes that must come, urgently, if we are to restore the essential trust between the people and their political representatives.