A former employee of John Bercow claims today that he was the victim of violent rages at the hands of the Speaker, in a series of extraordinary allegations about the Speaker’s conduct. Speaking to Guido, the respected senior former staff member in Bercow’s office said:
“If I was asked was I ever hit? I’d say yes.
If I was hit by bits of a mobile phone he smashed in one if his rages? Yes.
Did I witness him telling untruths to accuse people of wrongful behaviour? Yes.
Was I sworn at? Very regularly.
I witnessed catastrophic losses of temper. The rages were extraordinary. Arms flailing. The loss of control.”
Would this person go on the record at a select committee?
On Monday, the Speaker was promising to “solicit views in detail” from Members about his controversial selection of Carol Mills as Clerk of the House. “People can express their views on the floor of the House,” he said. “I want to hear what people have to say.”
Now it’s – That’s enough of that. There is no point of order further to that point of order. Let’s move on. No , no, no, la-la-la, not listening, presentation of Bills what day?
He calls his accusers in that weary, ‘here we go again’ voice, encouraging Labour to jeer and call out “Keep your hair on!” to. Michael Fabricant. For the PLP Bercow is “Our Speaker” and for that reason Bercow addresses half his rebuttals to their side, seeking their support.
Fabricant told the Speaker he’d lied to the House. He said he had it from people on the panel that Saxton Bampfylde had indeed been prevented from coming and speaking to the panel and giving information about Carol Mills. “I wonder whether, under those circumstances, you might wish to put the record straight so that the House is not misled.”
He made an ancillary point. Would the Speaker lift the threat of litigation against Saxton Bampfylde so they could publicly set the record straight?
And that’s the end of the matter, the Speaker told the House. “Til Monday!” Michael Fabricant cheerfully called out.
Clerkgate has a long way to go yet.
William Hague, the new Leader of the House answered Simon Burns’ question about the status of the Mills appointment letter. He revealed that the Speaker had written to Downing St earlier in the week to ask for a further delay.
The Speaker didn’t quite conceal his feelings that his private correspondence was being aired like this.
Because it’s not what he told Burns yesterday “with crystal clarity”. He had said instead that it wasn’t for him to withdraw the letter.
His legalistic wriggling is such that the House is entitled to question everything he says.
In the FT yesterday, the Speaker developed his project to paint the outgoing Clerk Robert Rogers as a dusty old reactionary with his nose in Erskine May and wholly unsuited to managing £240m worth of public money. Therefore, his argument goes, the managerial functions of the Clerk should be taken away and given to a professional.
The Clerk’s management record will doubtless come out in the Back Bench debate but there’s no question Sir Robert put a lot of runs on the board, even for those modern teams of Inclusion and Diversity.
By contrast, the Speaker himself has never managed anything.
His staff turnover has been high, and at least one ex-employee, it is said, took six months off recovering from post-traumatic stress. His Public Engagement committee was ridiculous (see Guido passim). He is by many accounts an intrusive, mercurial, politically-driven meddler in every aspect of Palace life.
The one project we know he has managed – the appointment of a new Clerk – has been so spectacularly badly-done it may result in two or three law suits, a seven-figure compensation claim, and a complete re-run of the process from the beginning.
So, experience tells us that it isn’t the Clerk’s role that should be split but the Speaker’s. He should remain as the guarantor of parliamentary process, privilege and probity but all his management functions should be passed over forthwith to an existing in-house official who knows what he or she is doing.
A foul-mouthed bully with a penchant for megalomania and who contravenes all seven Nolan Principles of Public Life is not the model of a modern manager.
How he used to suck at the udders of the House when it came to points of order. After taking half a dozen Bercow would coax, nibble, squeeze another lot out. “Any more? Anyone? Just a little one? Who’s got something for me?”
What a difference from today.
Michael Fabricant rattled his teeth with two questions. Why were recruiters Saxton Bampfylde prevented from telling the panel that Carol Mills was under two separate Inquiries in the Australian Senate? And was it the case that Carol Mills wasn’t even originally recommended by these head hunters?
The Speaker had begun the week emolliently promising a full, frank and friendly examination of all these questions. He almost snarled that Fabricant was “unfortunately but predictably wrong on both counts,” then blustered into an ad hominem attack on him for not having been in the chamber on Monday or if he had been he hadn’t asked a question but there it was and it was now time to move on.
In other words, “I am guilty as charged and if I don’t keep moving they’ll have the cuffs on me.”
Chris Pincher got even shorter shrift. He quoted an Andrew Sparrow report of “sources close to you” disparaging clerks, and…
He was shut up, told to sit down and – insultingly, some might think – told to “rise to the level of events.”
He is the rudest Speaker the House has ever had. And I speak as a connoisseur of rudeness. Bercow is in a class of his own.
Tried to make a Point of Order to the Speaker, but #Bercow hurriedly left the Chamber! So had to ask Deputy Spkr why he had "scurried off".
— Michael Fabricant (@Mike_Fabricant) September 2, 2014
Is the Speaker now going to avoid Points of Order every day???? #Bercowcrisis
— Michael Fabricant (@Mike_Fabricant) September 2, 2014
That must be a record for an Urgent Question. Prolix MPs were allowed to ramble at will around the Rotherham horror. At the end an hour and a half (UQs can be over in 25 minutes) the Speaker, in Michael Fabricant’s phrase “scurried off”.
Fabricant has questions about Saxton Bampfylde’s role in the now infamous appointment. He wants to ask the Speaker, personally. Under privilege.
The Speaker will try and stop him asking those questions because the answers are probably fatal.
Someone has acted with career-ending impropriety. It’s either the head hunters or it’s their client the Speaker.
Unless the Speaker takes to his bed with Pre-Traumatic Stress we might find out whether it’s the one or the other tomorrow directly after PMQs.