7 Grand Slam: Bercow’s Commons Intervention for Donor

This summer the Speaker of the House of Commons netted £7,510 in donations from the Lawn Tennis Association. It’s a nice perk of the job for John Bercow to sit in the Royal Box at Wimbledon and attend two other tennis matches with no expense spared. It was equally nice of the impartial and above reproach Speaker to return the favour…

“I think the record shows that as Speaker I have taken the lead in cleaning up politics”, said Bercow in 2010. Yet, eleven days ago he took the extraordinary step of intervening in a Commons debate in order to encourage the building of more tennis courts, and promote – by name – the LTA. His donor:

16 Oct 2014 : Column 462

Oliver Colvile: The Government passed the Localism Act more than two years ago and Plymouth city council, which is controlled by the Labour party, has identified Collins park tennis courts as surplus to requirements and might well seek to build on them. It claims that it has not made a decision, but has published a planning brief. Please may we have a debate on the progress that local communities and neighbourhoods have made in protecting green inner-city areas such as mine in Plymouth?

Mr Hague: I think a debate on these issues would be most welcome to illustrate the opportunities that are now open. The Localism Act 2011 gives communities the opportunity to list valuable local assets and so far some 1,500 assets of community value have been listed. Green spaces are the second most popular listing, along with parks, village greens, open land and even, in one case, a mountain. I encourage my hon. Friend to pursue a debate on these matters.

Mr Speaker: Of course, we cannot get involved in individual planning applications, but I hope that I can be forgiven for saying that we need more tennis courts in this country and not fewer. That is a matter about which I feel very strongly, as does the Lawn Tennis Association and a great many other people besides.

The Speaker is meant to be above the fray, whiter than white and a shining example to all MPs. Any other MP caught pushing the cause of a donor without at least giving a nod to their register of interests would be hauled up to give a grovelling apology to the House.

Should Bercow be allowed to swerve the rules like this?

Speaker Greatly Weakened By Loss of ‘Key Enforcer’

Intriguingly, the now sacked Speaker’s spokesman Justine McGuinness was the only other person who was present at every meeting regarding the abortive appointment of a new Clerk of the Commons.

She’s described by parliamentary sources as “a key internal enforcer” for the Speaker.

He’s thrown his right-hand woman to the wolves.

UPDATE: The Tories have asked the Speaker to donate McGuinness’ payoff to charity:

VICTORY: Speaker’s Spokesman Resigns

Following Guido’s story yesterday about the Speaker’s spokesman abandoning her impartiality and attacking the Tories:

The spokesman needed a spokesman, and now she’s gone…

UPDATE: Here is the statement from the Commons:

“After a year in post Justine McGuinness has offered her resignation to the Speaker, which has been accepted. The Speaker thanks Ms McGuinness for her hard work and commitment over the last 12 months. She has contributed considerably to the running of the Speaker’s Office but now wishes to pursue other interests.”

Tories Demand Investigation Into Speaker’s Spokesperson
Bercow Spinner Accused of “Serious Breach” of Impartiality

The Tories are very angry about the Speaker’s official spokesperson going native and accusing them of “aim[ing] to buy the election”, a story followed up by the Mail and the Times this morning. Guido understands Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi has written to John Bercow accusing Justine McGuinness of “a serious breach of the guidance on Speaker’s impartiality.” Zahawi demands that an investigation is carried out by “one of your deputies” because of Bercow’s “close working relationship with Ms McGuinness”, so that “full confidence and transparency and upholding the integrity of your esteemed office” can been guaranteed. As Zahawi writes:

“The guidance on Speakers impartiality is clear: “The Speaker must be above party political controversy and must be seen to be completely impartial in all public matters. All sides in the House rely on the Speaker’s disinterest, and understand that he or she must stand aside from controversy.””

He concludes: “I’m sure you will agree with me Ms McGuinness’ actions constitute a serious breach of impartiality and must be urgently investigated.” Perhaps Eleanor Laing could take a look. As someone once said, when the spokesperson needs a spokesperson…

Speaker’s Spokesperson: “Tories Will Aim to Buy the Election”
Bercow’s Spinner Abandons Impartiality in Extraordinary Rant

Justine McGuinness is the official spokesperson to the Speaker of the House of Commons and a key member of Speaker’s Office, which is bound by strict impartiality rules dictating: “The Speaker must be above party political controversy and must be seen to be completely impartial in all public matters”. Today McGuinness addressed LibDem conference, waiving her impartiality with an extraordinary attack on the Tories, Labour and UKIP:

“The Tories will aim to buy the election with the millions of pounds donated to them by their hot money hedge fund friends. Labour will seek to steal the election, relying on an electoral system so biased in their favour that 35% of the vote could deliver them 55% of seats. UKIP will try and hijack the election by turning it into an argument about Europe and immigration as Nigel Farage swans around suburbia selling himself as some sort of suburban saloon bar Socrates.”

She was a LibDem candidate in 2005. This is going to kick up a big fuss…

WATCH: Bercow Insists He’s Not Shortest Speaker Ever

Bercow has been to Australia to speak to a half-empty room about democracy in the digital age. As Guido revealed in yesterday’s Sun column, he began his speech with a reference to “one quite sensitive matter which even as straight-talking Australians I hazard a guess your natural courtesy will disincline you to raise with me directly… that is the sensitive matter of… height.”

“It has been bruted in some of the more down-market parts of the British press that I am the shortest man ever to be Speaker… In the fairly confident expectation that there are some people who like me are vertically challenged in this audience, I say very, very explicitly, there’s nothing wrong with being short. We short people should stick together. We may be short but we may also be judged to be perfectly formed. In any case, facts are facts. I am short. I am 51 years old and remain short, and given the known impact of the ageing process upon physiognomy, the overwhelming likelihood is that I will become inexorably and irrevocably shorter still.”

Bercow went on to tell his antipodean audience that he is not the shortest Speaker ever, that particular achievement went to Sir John Bussy – Commons Speaker in 1399 – though only because he was beheaded by Henry IV. He concluded “whatever else happens to me, I am not likely to lose my head”. Watch til the end for the Speaker’s friendly acknowledgement of one audience member, a certain Carol Mills…

Jet-Setting Bercow Heads Down Under After Iraq Debate

The recall of parliament tomorrow will have disrupted the Speaker’s preparations for a lecture he is to deliver about democracy next week, in Australia. The Times Diary yesterday quoted Bercow’s spokesperson as all but confirming he would be meeting one Carol Mills on his jolly:

“He has a very tight schedule and not a lot of spare time. But Canberra is not a big place and it would be unlikely for him not to bump into her.”

To be a fly on the wall during that conversation…

Has the ‘Canberra Caterer’ Conceded the Clerk Fight?

It looks like Carol Mills, John Bercow’s one time favoured candidate to become the new Clerk of the Commons, has all but given up on coming the next Clerk of the House of Commons. According to the Canberra Times, Mills is sticking to what she knows best: retail.

Mills wants to launch a retail revolution up on Capital Hill, and the Parliamentary Services boss says Canberra district food, wine and crafts producers will be her foot soldiers. Ms Mills says Parliament House’s underperforming gift shop needs to be more than just a place to buy a Julia Gillard mug and the outlet should be showcasing some of the best things the ACT and region has to offer. Cash-strapped parliamentary authorities are coy about the exact figures, but say they are determined that the shop, which is understood to be barely breaking even, must pay its way.

Ms Mills told The Canberra Times that her new commercial strategy hinges on making the shop a place that reflects a trip to Canberra, not just a one-hour tour of the nation’s Parliament. “We’ve had quite a big emphasis on identifying and working with local artists and local producers, so quite a lot of their material is now exclusive to the store,” she said.”Product-wise, we’ve looked at ways where we can partner with GlassWorks and other local producers.

“We’ve also got local chocolates, local wine that promotes local wineries, I’ve been meeting with Crafts ACT to talk about how we can commission local artist to produce products for the shop.” Now that that Ms Mills’s big move to Westminster to take over the running of the British Houses of Parliament looks like it is on hold, she says she is determined to turn the Australian Parliament’s shop into a more rounded experience for visitors.

Guido would have thought she would be spending her time prepping up on our ancient parliamentary conventions and constitutional quirks if she was still planning on coming… 

Clerk Panel Knew of Mills Before She Was Suggested for Job

Carol Mills was known to “some members” of the clerk selection panel before Saxton Bampfylde put her up for interview, it was confirmed last night. So where did her name come from? Out of the hundreds – thousands – of […]

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Speaker’s Authority, Competence and Integrity Challenged

Last night, an advance in the Carol Mills story.

The House voted to set up a committee to consider the Governance of the House, including the role of the Clerk and chief executive.

Who thought procedure could be so exciting?[…]

+ READ MORE +

Speaker Watch: Bercow Stitch Up Faces Committee Scrutiny

John Bercow’s clerk stitch up will face the scrutiny of a committee of MPs after the House last night passed Jesse Norman’s motion to examine the probity of the appointment. The battle lines were drawn in the debate chaired by […]

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SPEAKER WATCH: Bercow’s Panel Turns on Him

An answer from John Thurso to Michael Fabricant’s written parliamentary question has been made.

Fabricant asked whether the selection panel had been aware of the Australian Senate’s investigations into Carol Mills, and if so, at what stage they had been […]

+ READ MORE +



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Quote of the Day

Charles Clarke says Cameron is the most successful PM for over a century…

“Under Margaret Thatcher the Conservatives gained 99 seats. They lost 211 under John Major, gained one under William Hague, quickly and wisely got rid of Ian Duncan-Smith, gained 32 under Michael Howard and have so far gained 133 under David Cameron who, to the great surprise of many (including senior Conservatives), has turned out to be the most electorally successful Tory leader since 1900.”

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