John Bercow: what were you thinking?

The Speaker seems to have forgotten what he was elected for

The new Speaker, John Bercow, is reported to have ordered a £20,000 refurbishment of his official grace-and-favour flat in the Palace of Westminster. The Daily Telegraph (who else, eh?) reports on a confidential and detailed note that it has seen:

The confidential document shows that he has ordered redecoration for Speaker's House totalling £20,659.36.

Of this, £3,600 has been spent on fitting locks to the windows and having workmen check that access ducts in the wall panelling are lockable or childproof.

A further £3,880 has been spent on planters to provide additional child safety on the terrace.

One of the two studies is to become a playroom, with £1,087 spent on redecorating it.

Apologists for the Speaker have been quick to defend his spending plans as "child-friendly" and "family-friendly". "It's perfectly justified," one Bercow supporter told me this afternoon. Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live, Mike Granatt, who was a spokesman for Bercow's predecessor Michael Martin, said the Speaker's contract required him to live in the flat and it was "not unreasonable that the place should be made safe for his kids".

Hmm. Perhaps John Bercow and his army of fans inside and outside Parliament could explain why having a wife and three kids justifies spending £6,764.30 on a new sofa suite, £760 on window seat cushions and £275 on eight lampshades. Are they special "child-friendly" cushions? Could he not find a sofa suite big enough for five people that cost less than £7,000? Here is one I found at DFS for less than a grand.

Bercow has form on this issue - MPs knew about his alleged "flipping" before they elected him (with Labour MPs backing his candidacy simply to spite David Cameron and the Tories). The Telegraph reports today that he has paid "£6,508 plus VAT to HM Revenue & Customs to cover the tax he could have been asked to pay. He also paid back £1,470.62 that he claimed on his office expenses for accountants' services in helping him complete his tax return."

To borrow from John McCain: "That's not change we can believe in."

In fact, I have long argued, as have others, that reforming Parliament and politics involves much more than electing John Bercow as the new Speaker and having him a don a lounge suit in the Commons. Bercow needs to change the mindset and the mentality of our MPs - and he could start by changing himself.

(Disclaimer: the New Statesman backed John Bercow for Speaker).

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.