Brian Micklethwait's Blog

In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Thursday May 21 2009

John Bercow is now being talked up as a possible next Speaker of the House of Commons.  Time for me to dish some dirt, because I actually know this person a little, from way back.  From time to time, during the nineteen eighties, John Bercow would appear at the libertarian Alternative Bookshop, where I used to help out.

The main impression he made on me was that he was one of those people who would tell me whatever he thought I wanted to hear.  Not only did I not like this, I also didn’t admire it, because it was so damned obvious that this was what he was trying to do.  All politicians tend to make me feel this way, but Bercow really made me feel this way.

Also, he was one of those people (another prime example of the breed is Harry Phibbs) who adopts the demeanour of politicians thirty years older than he is, which, by the time he is himself fifty, makes him an archaeological relic.  I forgive Harry Phibbs for this, because Phibbs is a good writer, and I can forgive a good writer almost anything not definitely immoral.  But Bercow, unlike Phibbs, seemed to be all demeanour, and underneath it ... well, nothing that I could discern, other than the desire, even then, far more than all the other Conservative Young Men that I met at that time, to be a politician.  What he did with it was not the point.  The point was to be one.  He was just a perfectly fitting suit of armour made of self-made charm. 

Now I have to get suppositional.  Now I am just going on things I’ve read over the years.

During the Blair years, Bercow sensed, in Tony Blair, a fellow spirit.  A pure politician.  And Bercow made no secret of it.  Did he, I wonder, communicate his disdain for all those unreconstructed Conservatives who still persisted in trying to do something with politics?  That is my understanding.  So, now all the other Conservative MPs hate him.  And because of all that, the Labourites like him, as Iain Dale explains.

Not so long ago, in the days of Betty Boothroyd, I was one of a number of people who believed that the Speaker of the House of Commons might be rejigged into a non-hereditary Head of State, no less.  No doubt this is a constitutional absurdity, but constitutionalists are always saying that about whatever crazy thing the constitution takes it into its head to do next.  Politically, that idea then meant something.  And because of all that, Bercow now yearns to be the Speaker.  The purest politician of them all, who does nothing but preside over politics.  And I suspect that the real politicians, so to speak, just like me, find that aspiration rather ridiculous.

Guido Fawkes has his own sleaze-related reasons for not liking Bercow much either.  Come to think of it, maybe Bercow’s calculatedly generous way with his expenses is another reason why the Parliamentary Labour Party now likes him so much.

On the other hand, Bercow is, or so I believe, a pal of Julian Lewis MP.  They used to collaborate doing speech-making classes for would-be speechifiers, and maybe they still do.  Julian Lewis is the only Member of Parliament with whom I am in any way even approximately still acquainted, having got to know him a little because I agree with him in hating the USSR.  During the eighties he got USSR-hating down to a fine art.  I was not at all surprised that Lewis defended himself robustly on the subject of his expenses.  Lewis thinks MP’s addresses should not be public knowledge, on security grounds, and especially not his own.  This is reasonable, and at a time like this it takes real guts to say such a thing.  I know, I know.  Total transparency.  Repeat that when an MP’s house is firebombed.

I am old enough to remember when John Bercow was a libertarian in the FCS, and when he sided with Norman Tebbit over the closing down of the FCS. 

He doesn’t seem to have an enduring set of political beliefs.  I suspect there are many tory MPs like that, but few quite so glaringly obvious. 

I am afraid the poem the Vicar of Bray comes to mind quite unbidden.

Posted by Otto on 25 May 2009

No, John Bercow was not a libertarian, he was in what the libertarians called the “shits” faction: Young Monday Clubbers who sometimes sided with libertarians on foreign policy and reducing taxes, but were viscerally anti-immigration, homophobic and in favour of greater police powers. They would doubtless have been misogynistic if the Leader had not been Margaret Thatcher.

I’ve no doubt that he may have persuaded people he was a libertarian.

Which sort of proves Brian’s point.

Posted by anon on 23 June 2009
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