LONDON: Hopes that a new Commons Speaker would start restoring public faith in British politics were dashed on Tuesday after a Conservative MP called John Bercow’s election a “two-fingered salute” to the public.
Conservative Party backbencher, Nadine Dorries, said only three Conservatives had voted for fellow-party member Bercow, whose accession to the Speaker’s chair was greeted by sullen silence from Tory benches.
“It was a vindictive political act on behalf of the Labour Party towards what they see to be the future Conservative government and the British people,” Dorries told BBC radio.
“It was almost a two-fingered salute to the British people from the Labour MPs, and to the Conservative party.”
Bercow, who at 46 will be the youngest Commons speaker for 170 years, is disliked by his Conservative colleagues after moving from the far-right of the party to a position many thought was too close to Labour.
“A lot of Conservatives feel John positioned himself in order to woo Labour to get the speakership, a lot of people are annoyed that it worked,” Alan Duncan, Conservative shadow leader of the Commons, told BBC radio.
Bercow had told MPs ahead of the election he would implement an “agenda of reform, for renewal ... and for the reassertion of this great institution.”
But Duncan said that, as Speaker, Bercow’s role as a reformer would be limited and that MPs themselves would initiate most of the changes that party leaders have said are necessary to restore public trust in parliament.
Plans are already under way to transfer the Speaker’s responsibility for the administration of parliamentary expenses to an independent body, Duncan noted.
“That massive part of the reforming agenda of a new Speaker will already, by the time he speaks on the chair for the first time, be on the way out,” he said.
“He is much more umpire and referee than executor.”
One of Bercow’s first tasks as the Commons’ 157th speaker will be to repair his damaged relations with the Conservatives, the Times said in an editorial.
“Tactfully, but urgently, Mr Bercow now needs to work to ensure that he acts as a speaker for all the House rather than a practical joke played on (Conservative leader) David Cameron by Labour MPs,” it said.
Bercow, a qualified tennis coach and the first Jewish Speaker of the Commons, is widely believed to have changed his political spots after marriage to his Labour-supporting wife Sally in 2002.
The son of a London taxi driver, Bercow replaces former speaker Michael Martin, who formally stood down on Sunday after losing the confidence of the House of Commons.
MPs had blamed the former Glasgow sheet-metal worker for presiding over the disastrous parliamentary expenses scandal that provoked public fury and the resignation of several MPs.