Tebbit: "Bercow is no Tory"

A one-time party chairman's tacit Ukip endorsement.

Some of my best friends are Speakers, insisted Norman Tebbit today, before declaring open season on John Bercow and his attempts to keep the UK Independence Party's Nigel Farage at bay.

I paraphrase. Here's what Tebbit actually told BBC1's Politics Show:

I remain a friend of John's and I have been for 20-odd years . . . He did cast himself in my mould, indeed. But he has been reworked in recent years. I don't think he would really be able to describe himself as a Conservative any more, even if he were not the Speaker.

And so to the forthcoming election battle for the Buckingham seat that will see Farage defy convention and take on a sitting speaker. Tebbit, not for the first time putting himself at odds with David Cameron, told the programme:

There is not a Conservative candidate, so they have to look around. And they will make a choice.

I don't think it's any business of the Conservative Party to instruct even its activists and members in who they should vote for in that sense, or indeed campaign for.

As my colleague George Eaton has noted, Bercow is defending the largest Tory majority in the country, so is more than likely to see off Farage, with or without the implied endorsement of a one-time Conservative Party chairman and current star of the blogosphere.

Nor will it do Cameron any harm, in the country at large, to be seen to be in opposition to an "old-school" Tory.

And yet Tebbit's apparent preference for Ukip's man over the modernising Bercow does speak to large sections of the Conservative Party. And not just the grass roots.

For starters -- as our political correspondent James Macintyre reported earlier this year -- there's a small right-wing parliamentary cabal actively plotting to oust Bercow. Moreover, wannabe Conservative MPs remain dogmatically Eurosceptic.

Take this finding from the recent New Statesman/ComRes poll of 101 prospective parliamentary candidates:

Seventy-two per cent agree that as a matter of priority, Britain needs a fundamental renegotiation of its relationship with the European Union.

Despite David Cameron's post-"cast-iron guarantee" words about the Lisbon Treaty, it is fanciful to believe that the Tory leadership shares the view that renegotiation is a "matter of priority".

The grass roots have just scored a notable victory -- Conservative Central HQ has acceded to their wishes and approved strong immigration messages for campaigning in marginal seats.

As the opinion polls narrow, will the calls from Tebbit and co prove equally irresistible?

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Jon Bernstein, former deputy editor of New Statesman, is a digital strategist and editor. He tweets @Jon_Bernstein. 

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Commons Confidential: Sleepy Zac is too laid-back

Lucy Allan's "threat", Clean for the Queen and the case of the invisible frontbencher.

After six years as a minister for Europe, David Lidington’s profile remains low. But the invisible frontbencher might be useful in a pub quiz, if not a referendum. A Tory snout muttered that David Who? has been boasting that he can name 20 of the 28 European commissioners currently parked in Brussels.

Lidington admitted that he will be history, should the UK decide to quit the EU. “If Britain voted to leave,” he nervously told a Tory gathering, “I think I’d let somebody else have a go in this job.” David Cameron is presumably thinking the same thing. Incidentally, can anybody name Britain’s EU commissioner?

“I wanted to get in touch to let you know about a fantastic initiative to help clean up the UK in advance of HM the Queen’s 90th birthday,” trilled the Banbury Tory Victoria Prentis in an email to fellow MPs. “‘Clean for the Queen’ brings together all the anti-litter organisations from the UK and aims to get people involved in the largest community-inspired action against litter . . . I will also be holding a drop-in photo opportunity . . . We will have posters, litter bags and T-shirts. Please do come along.” I await the formation of a breakaway group: “Republicans for Rubbish”.

Tory colleagues are advising Zac Goldsmith, I hear, to invest a slice of his inherited £300m fortune in speaking lessons to help him stop sounding so disinterested. Laid-Back Zac appears to lull himself to sleep on public platforms and on TV. My informant whispered that cheeky Tory MPs have been cooking up a slogan – “Goldsmith: head and shoulders above Labour” – ahead of the tall, rich kid’s tussle with the pocket battleship Sadiq Khan to become the mayor of London.

The Telford Tory Lucy Allan has finally received help after inserting the words “Unless you die” into a constituent’s email that she posted on Facebook, presumably to present herself as the victim of a non-existent death threat. Allan has since become embroiled in accusations of bullying a sick staffer. “The House has offered me a three-hour media training session,” the fantasist said in an email to colleagues. “There are two extra slots available . . .” How much will this cost us?

Oh, to have been a fly on the wall when the Injustice Secretary, Michael Gove, shared a drink with Chris Grayling and informed his predecessor that prisons would be the next piece of his legacy to be reversed. Chris “the Jackal” Grayling, by the way, is complaining that Gove’s spads are rubbishing him. And with good reason.

The Tory lobbyist Baron Hill of Oareford is the UK’s chap at the European Commission. He puts the margin into marginalised at the Berlaymont.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle