You saw the title right. Yes, last Friday, John Bercow graced the streets of Leicester by visiting the university for his talk on ‘The Making of a Modern Parliament’!
For those of you who don’t know who John Bercow is, he’s the Speaker of the House of Common’s in the British Parliament. Originally elected as MP for Buckingham, Bercow applied to be House Speaker in 2009 and has been elected to the position in each of the three elections (2010, 2015, 2017) since. That means he’s the first Speaker of the House to hold the position for so long!
Essentially, the Speaker of the House is there to keep the other MPs in check and to make sure everyone has a voice. If the Speaker tells you to shut up, you shut up. He actually gave an example of a particular northern MP who had been allowed to speak in the first two debates of the day. When it came to the third debate, Bercow was aware he wanted to speak again, but was also aware there were other MPs who had not spoken all day. This MP became frustrated at the Speaker, simply because ‘his opinion was really important’. Sorry mate, that won’t fly in politics.
I don’t think I’d ever seen a lecture theatre so full as I did on Friday. The place was filled to the brim, with people even having to stand in the doorways of the theatre.
We all sat (or stood) in anticipation when Mr Speaker began. All expecting to hear some great wisdom and insider knowledge about the inner workings of a modern Parliament. He got very serious and explained that there was a very ‘delicate issue’ which needed to be discussed first. Of course, everyone’s slightly worried about what he could have to say that was so important. Brexit? Cross party issues? Free speech on uni campuses? It literally could have been anything.
What John Bercow had to share with us so badly, was that he was aware of his height.
Yes, John Bercow is a mere 5ft 5 inches!
He claimed to not actually be the shortest Speaker on record, although he had to factor in those who had been beheaded…
That aside, hearing from Mr Speaker himself was really insightful. He explained that as Speaker for all parties, he must be independent. Meaning that when he took up the position, he had to abandon his own Conservative party but remains MP for Buckingham. Bercow also must be aware of all the MPs and where they stand on issues to help his judgment for debate.
Further, he’d introduced several reforms to Parliament to make it a MODERN PARLIAMENT. As Speaker, he reduced Question Time with the Prime Minister as he thought the proceedings were too slow. He also encouraged more use of Urgent Questions (These are questions directed to the appropriate minister, who must come to the Commons Chamber to explain the government’s actions on the issue) and encouraged backbenchers to decide debates during the week. It was because of this reform that the Brexit referendum was called due to a ‘Tory revolt’.
Personally, my favourite reform is Bercow’s transformation of the shooting gallery. Originally, MPs would gather here to practice their shooting with pistols. Bercow decided this outdated relic should be replaced with a nursey, to better served the growing needs of a diverse range of MPs. This included setting up an education centre, opened in July 2015. It just so happened to be opened 800 years after the signing of the Magna Carta! Not only that, but 750 years after the opening of Leicester’s very own Simon De Monfort’s Parliament! Quite fitting, wouldn’t you say.
When asked whether he was apologetic over his remarks about President Trump’s potential visit to the UK, Mr Speaker made it clear that it wasn’t his place to have an opinion on the matter in Parliament, but that he doesn’t regret what he said and wished the Americans the best!
All in all, I didn’t expect John Bercow to crack so many jokes. A worthwhile visit.