The Speaker ought to resign, for the good of the Commons. This is what the drawn out, often technical, arguments over the search for the next Clerk during the last few weeks have led to. He has performed an imitation of a u-turn today, but it isn’t sufficient to save him.
Bercow’s position has become untenable for three reasons.
First, the way in which he has conducted the attempted recruitment of Carol Mills has bogged him down in an array of troubling questions. How was the selection panel chosen? Why is he so unconcerned about the various controversies surrounding Ms Mills’ behaviour in Australia? How come he backed her so strongly when some of her own colleagues, like the Clerk of the Australian Senate, don’t think her qualified for the role? Were references sought as to her performance in her current job? Did the outgoing Clerk resign because of Bercow’s behaviour towards him, as has been alleged? Why was the process rushed through over the summer, when most MPs were absent?
All this and more now swirls around the Speaker, a gloomy cloud following him wherever he goes. In the weeks since the questions were first raised he hasn’t shown any willingness or capacity to answer them, so there’s no prospect of them ever going away.
Second, he has clearly lost the faith of the Conservative benches that he will act towards them in a fair way. For many MPs this lack of faith in his balance is not new – but for others it has grown as his behaviour towards them has deteriorated. His interruptions of the Prime Minister, seemingly more to display his own wit than to ensure smooth running of Parliamentary business, aren’t matched by similar interventions into the Opposition’s speeches – and he visibly takes some glee in doing it. A Speaker must be balanced beyond question. Bercow is not.
Third, and most important, his authority over the House as a whole has evaporated. In his statement this afternoon he was openly heckled by various MPs. His declaration that “a number of colleagues have expressed disquiet” about Ms Mills, when in reality at least 84 MPs are in open revolt on the matter, elicited a loud “Ha!” from Michael Fabricant. His proposal of a “modest pause” has been met by rebel demands for a full debate on his conduct of the affair. It’s no use suggesting this is a group of usual suspects who dislike him personally – the objectors have visibly multiplied in proportion to his misbehaviour.
This is an unsustainable state of affairs, and his failure (or refusal) to satisfy his critics now threatens to disrupt the running of parliament. As Fabricant told The Spectator, the Speaker is now “damaged goods”. A functioning Commons is more important than the future of J. Bercow MP, as uncomfortable as that may be for him to hear.
Bercow’s great strength was in reforming the Commons to give greater power to backbenchers. The credit he won by doing so allowed him to survive despite his other flaws – but now he has used it all up.
In short, he ought to go of his own accord or be made to go by MPs. We need a new Speaker who can live up to the job and restore the role to its former standing.