TRIBUTE TO THE SPEAKER – 31 October 2019
Dr Julian Lewis: Thank you, Mr Speaker, for calling me, for once, quite early on in proceedings and not “saving the good doctor” for tail-end Charlie. [Laughter.] One of the disadvantages, it must be said, of having originally met you 15 years before we both entered the House in 1997, is the fact that you have, from time to time, felt it incumbent upon yourself to demonstrate that you were showing no particular favouritism to a personal friend by not calling me perhaps as early as I would have liked.
I was impressed that the shadow Leader of the House referred to our 10-year period training up Conservative activists – I think 600 in all – before we entered the House of Commons together in 1997. At that time, I used to do the campaigning part of the course and you used to do the oratorical part of the course. You used to say that in a good speech the speaker should have, at best, one key point and at most two key points to convey to the audience. So, my one key point about you, your character and your speakership is that you have shown that you are a good man to have by one’s side when the going gets rough. That does not just apply to individuals; it applied to Parliament as a whole, because when you came into office in 2009 the going was very rough indeed.
You made your entry into Parliament in a somewhat dramatic way as the MP for Buckingham. Such were your skills as an orator during the selection process, you had been shortlisted for not only Buckingham but the Surrey Heath constituency. You were due to be in the semi-final in Surrey Heath and in the final in Buckingham on the same night. You will recall that, at my suggestion, we organised a helicopter to enable you to go from one interview to the other, so that you would not have to withdraw. I know that you have felt for many years a great deal of gratitude towards me for making that possible. I have to tell you that that gratitude was entirely misplaced, because I knew that only a few days later, the process of selecting for New Forest East was going to begin, and we were both on the longlist. [Laughter.] I thought, “If I can’t get this blighter selected, I’m not going to have a chance,” so it worked out as a win-win situation.
It has often been remarked, and has been again today, that you went on a political journey, but the detail of that political journey has not always been spelt out as clearly as it should be. There is a myth out there that the young Bercow was part of the Monday club, had very right-wing views, and then saw the light and repudiated them all. It is with great pleasure, therefore, that I remind the House that on 2 December 1997, when we had both been elected and there was a Second Reading debate on the treaty of Amsterdam, I was making only my fourth speech from the Benches of the House of Commons and you – chuntering from a sedentary position – kept heckling me on why it was that I was such a johnny-come-lately to the cause of ardent Euroscepticism. Some people may wish that some journeys had been rather shorter than they turned out to be.
I will not detain the House much longer, other than to make a couple of closing points. I am still waiting for the dinner that I earned in a bet with a young female Conservative MP – now a Minister, I am delighted to say – when she made a bet with me that you would not last one year as Speaker without being ejected. And I observe that now, finally – at last – freed from the constraints of the speakership, you will feel able to speak your mind and not hold back your views so self-effacingly.
On a more serious note, but a heartfelt one, as well as thanking you for your personal friendship over many years, I am sure that you will agree that it would be nice to close this tribute to you with a personal tribute that I would like to make to the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd). She has been here for 35 years, and in all that time, she has never ceased to promote human rights at home and abroad. From the opposite side of the Chamber, I salute her as I salute you, Mr Speaker.
[Mr Speaker: Thank you. I completely endorse what the right hon. Gentleman just said about the right hon. Lady, who has been fearless, principled and insistent on speaking up for the rights of people around the world when those rights have been egregiously abused. If ever there has been, in this Parliament, a voice for the voiceless, she has been that voice.
Hon. Members: Hear, hear!]