New Times,
New Thinking.

  1. Politics
2 May 2018updated 09 Jun 2021 10:12am

John Bercow will likely survive as Speaker despite the bullying allegations

Beyond a small cabal of Tory MPs, no real appetite exists to oust the long-standing Speaker. 

By Patrick Maguire

The Westminster bullying scandal continues. John Bercow, the Speaker, faces allegations from a second member of his parliamentary staff. 

Angus Sinclair, Bercow’s former private secretary, told Newsnight last night that he had been repeatedly shouted at, sworn at and undermined by the Speaker during his year in the job. No 10 say the allegations are “concerning”, a spokesman for Jeremy Corbyn said they were “extremely serious”. One particularly alarming incident allegedly saw an irate Bercow smash a mobile phone on his secretary’s desk.

Sinclair says he received a pay-off of more than £85,000 upon his departure and was gagged with a non-disclosure order. He told the BBC he was breaching it in the public interest. “Yes it breaks that NDA, but it’s the truth. There was bullying,” he said.

It is the second report of bullying from within Bercow’s office in recent months: Sinclair’s successor, Kate Emms, is reported to have been moved to another job in the Commons in 2011 after lodging a bullying complaint against the Speaker and developing post-traumatic stress disorder. Bercow strenuously denies all accusations of bullying.

More striking than these allegations, however, is that they have been made repeatedly with little consequence. Insiders wearily predict that Bercow, who has been Speaker for nearly a decade, will be able to ride out any controversy. 

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

This is partly down to process. An independent inquiry into the bullying of Commons staff – prompted by Newsnight’s first report on allegations of misconduct against Bercow and other MPs – is already underway, but will not examine individual cases. Nor is the Speaker under investigation by the parliamentary commissioner for standards or parliament’s standards committee, the only real means by which he could be censured.

Though there is some ministerial appetite to put pressure on Bercow, the nature of the Speaker’s role means Conservatives have little meaningful way to do so. Consequently, there is little incentive for those in government who deal with Bercow most regularly to confront him.

More significant, however, is the lack of appetite among Tory MPs for a bid to oust Bercow. Newsnight‘s film was duly followed this morning by reports that the Speaker was under pressure, and was being urged to consider his position. Yet there was little outward sign of this in the Commons chamber today.

The same was true following Newsnight’s first film in March: the visible consequences were minimal and Bercow remained in the chair. Put simply, the problem is that those Tory MPs applying pressure – most often James Duddridge and Andrew Bridgen – have long done so at every available opportunity.

That the only calls for Bercow to stand down emanate from his parliamentary bête noire​s bodes ill for their efforts to remove him. Valid though it could be in this instance, the criticism over bullying can easily be cast as an extension of long-standing antagonism – Bercow has endured Conservative attacks over his remarks on Brexit and Donald Trump.  

Labour allies of the Speaker, such as former cabinet minister Peter Hain, have made just this point today, arguing that the criticism of Bercow is merely a backlash against his modernisation of the House. Barry Sheerman, the Labour MP, has described Andrew Bridgen’s claim that Commons staff work in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation as “total nonsense”. Such blasé dismissals are made possible by the Bercow Out ultras.

The defence of the Speaker by figures like Hain and Sheerman reflects another difficulty in ousting him: his relative popularity on the Labour benches. If moves to replace Bercow are to succeed, an outcry among opposition MPs will be necessary. There is a large cohort of indifferent Tories, who admit they dislike Bercow but have little interest in expending time, energy and political capital on a doomed campaign to oust him. Given the lack of mainstream, bipartisan appetite for his departure,  the Speaker is unlikely to leave on anyone’s terms but his own.

Content from our partners
An innovative approach to regional equity
ADHD in the criminal justice system: a case for change – with Takeda
The power of place in tackling climate change