'NEW SPEAKER IS A BREATH OF FRESH AIR' [UPDATED]

By Julian Lewis

Southern Daily Echo – 10 July 2009

Though not normally a gambler, I recently agreed a non-financial bet with a fellow Conservative MP. She thinks that if our party wins power next year a serious attempt will be made to replace the new Speaker. I strongly disagree.

Already a breath of fresh air can be felt in the Chamber. When the Prime Minister made a major statement last month, more than 40 MPs were able to question him in the space of an hour. This is unprecedented.

When Ministers leaked a Written Statement before issuing it to the Commons, the Opposition parties were given the chance to grill them on the Floor of the House via the Urgent Question procedure. This used to happen only very rarely.

And when the contents of the Speaker’s own announcement about electing his Deputies were given in advance to the BBC, those to whom he had confided it were publicly warned that any repetition would mean an end to their being consulted in future.

All this flows from the election of John Bercow on 22 June. Much more will follow. John is a person who defers to no-one. This is why he twice left the Conservative Front Bench. He makes people in authority foam at the mouth. He has a near-photographic memory and is probably the finest orator of his Parliamentary generation.

For ten years, the two of us trained other activists at home and abroad – as far afield as Washington DC and Vilnius. It is true that, over a decade, John has moved politically from well to my right to well to my left; but that is to miss the main point. Whatever his views at any given time, they were always expressed openly, fearlessly and very, very effectively.

Although elected Speaker mainly by Labour and minority party MPs, they know – as I do – that none of his supporters will receive preferential treatment. Speaker Bercow will be scrupulously professional. And, next year, I shall win my bet.

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UPDATE –– 18 May 2010

This afternoon John Bercow was re-elected Speaker without a Division of the House: with typical grace, my colleague has confirmed that she will be paying for dinner ...