So, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards has upheld 21 of the 35 bullying complaints levelled against John Bercow. Kathryn Stone has barred the former Speaker for life from receiving the parliamentary pass afforded to former members; the Labour Party has suspended his membership.
We should note, of course, that Bercow himself denies being a bully, and has savaged the complaints process. The full report has been published, so readers are welcome to read the evidence and form their own view. The running theme about him impersonating people is remarkable reading, the conclusion utterly damning.
Presumably those Conservative MPs who tried to overhaul that same process over Owen Paterson must be prepared to give that defence some credit, although Andrea Leadsom (of the famous amendment) has been leading the calls for Bercow to be expelled from Labour.
This episode provides another opportunity to reflect on the contrast between Sir Lindsay Hoyle and his predecessor, but there is little to say about Bercow’s abysmal speakership that we have not said before.
But it does provide a good example of now disregard for norms and conventions can snowball. Because whilst Bercow’s tenure in the chair ended in high constitutional drama, with his rewriting the rules and the Government attempting a Hail Mary prorogation, it’s important to remember that it actually started in that spirit. As Chris Mullin detailed in his diaries, Bercow was a partisan actor from the very beginning, and Labour MPs elected him in full knowledge that he would make life difficult for an incoming Conservative government.
Had events turned out differently, the consequences might have been less severe. Had Theresa May not lost her majority in 2017, Leave not won in 2016, or Tory MPs not foolishly thwarted William Hague’s effort to oust Bercow in 2015, he would have had fewer opportunities for mischief. But that we cannot foresee when such crises might descend is precisely why MPs should not have played fast and loose with the speakership back in 2009.
Because diligence by MPs is the only safeguard against another Bercow. The nature of the speakership is that it is the force of control, balance, and restraint. It therefore is not, and probably cannot be, controlled, balanced, or restrained externally, save by the House of Commons – and it is precisely at times of division and crisis that the Commons is not well-placed to do this.