By Tim Montgomerie
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Conservative MP Rob Wilson has launched a direct attack on the Speaker, John Bercow. He hasn't done it on the floor of the House but on the pages of The Daily Telegraph.
He writes that Bercow "has emerged as a partisan, divisive figure, and one far too full of his own importance."
As evidence of partrisanship Mr Wilson argues that "he constantly interrupts and chastises Conservative MPs, while giving generous leeway to Labour opponents." He also cites last week's PMQs when, twice, the Speaker cut Cameron off in midflow.
Mr Wilson then reviews the ways in which Bercow alienated his Conservative colleagues and courted Labour MPs on his way to win the Speakership, two years ago. He concludes:
"Many MPs believe he has divided Parliament and undermined the stature of his office. For all his noise about modernisation, the only noticeable change he has introduced is to dump the Speaker’s traditional garb and wear instead a black robe – a uniform that is more prep-school head teacher than Speaker of one of the world’s oldest assemblies. It is not too late for him to realise his early reforming dream and heal the divide that seems to be growing within Parliament. He does have the gifts to live up to the grandeur and significance of his office. But if he is to bring people together, and win back the respect that his position demands, he will have to alter radically his approach. This is not just vital in terms of his career, or his tenure in the Speaker’s Chair: it is a constitutional necessity."
One Tory MP who does not share Mr Wilson's misgivings is Douglas Carswell. This is what the MP who led the ousting of Bercow's predecessor blogged in January:
"…Bercow’s biased, complain others. If by that you mean he shows favour to one side of the Commons chamber or party, that is demonstrably not true. If anything he can be tediously even handed. What bias Bercow does undoubtedly have is one which favours backbenchers against the frontbenches – and in support of the legislature over the executive. Under Bercow, even tiddly little backbenchers like me can force ministers to come before the Commons and answer urgent questions. It makes their life difficult – and keeps them on their toes. Commentators have observed the way in which this Parliament is more rebellious than others. One of the key reasons for this is the way the Speaker calls amendments. Under previous Speakers amendments tabled by backbenchers that the government might have found inconvenient would almost never get called. Now, there is every chance that they will."
Douglas makes good points but the vast majority of Tory MPs will be patting Rob Wilson on the back when they see him today.