John Bercow. The Speaker. It is a sign of our volatile times that Bercow is a household name. Yet to many observers Bercow is overplaying his role. To understand the critique of Bercow we need to delve into his role.
The role of the Speaker is to preside over House debates, determining which members may speak. The Speaker is responsible for maintaining order during proceedings and crucially is to remain non-partisan. Upon taking the role the Speaker must renounce any previous political affiliation.
It is of course right to state we are in unchartered territory. This means the role of the Speaker is under increased scrutiny. However despite this caveat my view is the Speaker is undermining the role and the position.
So what is the problem? Well for me consistency and impartiality. On Monday this week Bercow in my opinion rightly stuck to precedent and determined the Government could not bring their Brexit deal back to the Commons for a third vote. However, previously Bercow allegedly against the advice of experts allowed a cross-party amendment tabled by Dominic Grieve to be voted on. Breaking precedent. This is not intellectually consistent and dangerous in a time of instability.
Then we move to impartiality. Choice of amendments basically. The choices of the Speaker have long been questionable. Notably, in a debate in January Bercow failed to select amendments perceived to help the Brexit cause. Last week Bercow caused further controversy by allowing an amendment on a second referendum but rejecting an amendment ruling out a second referendum. My problem is not with Bercow allowing controversial amendments. My problem is he is not giving both sides of the argument a fair crack of the whip.
Remain commentators and MPs shrug this off. They believe any damage that the legislature can cause to the executive is to be welcomed. A perfectly valid opinion. And if they need a helping hand from the Speaker then so be it. Now that is where I have an issue. It ignores the long-term consequences. The Speaker is supposed to be neutral. He is not a political figure. Politicising this role has dangerous consequences for future appointments. A Speaker who is either seen as an extension of Government or the opposition is deeply damaging for Parliament. The Speaker is an arbiter and is not the star of the show.
This Speaker would do well to remember this.