Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
13 February 2017

What Jeremy Corbyn and John Bercow have in common

The two men are in the firing line, but both are safer than their enemies would like to think. 

By Stephen Bush

The devil makes work for idle hands, which means that the parliamentary recess is always a dangerous time. That, Brexit aside, Theresa May’s domestic agenda is thin gruel at the best of times, means that people are already antsy for a much-needed injection of drama.

That’s why those recurrent eruptions of discontent in Ed Miliband’s leadership tended to flare up over the summer, as opposition politicians without much to do turned fractious.

So expect the chatter about the positions of Jeremy Corbyn and John Bercow to rumble on this week.

As far as Corbyn is concerned, the threat is more imagined than real. Corbynsceptic MPs believe that any move on their part will revitalise the Corbyn project, rather than destroy it. For the left, the scale of the challenge that changing the rules to put a Corbynite MP on the ballot in future was once again shown after two setbacks for pro-Corbyn candidates in internal elections this weekend.

What about John Bercow? The Speaker’s chair has become a little bit more uncomfortable after it emerged that he told students at the University of Reading that he had voted to Remain. On the Westminster Hour last night, Alec Shelbrooke became the latest Tory MP to call on him to go. Also on that programme: Conor Burns, an ally of the Speaker, has said the “grandstanding” over Trump has hurt Bercow’s position.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

The danger for Bercow is that whereas with the Trump affair he could fairly be said to be exercising his constitutional powers, letting his view on the referendum be known publicly is a very different kettle of fish. 

Content from our partners
Small businesses can be the backbone of our national recovery
Railways must adapt to how we live now
“I learn something new on every trip"

But again, the threat to Bercow is overstated. Not only does he retain the support of the opposition parties but the movement against him among Conservatives is smaller than it appears. Though he has eked out a not inconsiderable following on the left, support for his consistent backing of the House against the government, as well as innovations like the parliamentary crèche, mean that he can count on unusual allies. Barring further revelations, he’ll get to his preferred date of 2018, though he is more vulnerable than Corbyn.

But both rows are a sign of things to come. Labour doesn’t really have a message for this vacant week, and will likely find that vacumn is taken up by talk of Corbyn’s future. The Speaker’s critics are emboldened and won’t go quiet any time soon. For both, this week is not going to cause them to update their LinkedIns but will be more uncomfortable than they’d like.