MPs gloat as Speaker Bercow loses power struggle

Committee tears up John Bercow's plans for hiring Clerk - and there’s a move afoot to get rid of him

The Mole

The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, has lost his power struggle with MPs over his bid to appoint an Australian as Clerk of the Parliament. But is this more than a blow to his ambitions – is it the first step in a campaign to oust him?

Bercow outraged his critics when he chose Carol Mills, an official of the Australian senate, as the first outsider to fill the 640-year-old post of Clerk, responsible for giving legal advice to the Speaker as well as running the Commons end of the Palace of Westminster. Bercow’s critics said she did not have the requisite expertise.

Under the backlash from MPs, Bercow was forced to pause the appointment of Mills. Then, last night, a committee on the governance of the Commons chaired by Jack Straw, a former Labour leader of the House, demanded that Bercow go back to the drawing- board.

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Straw’s committee called for the job to be split in two: they want a new 'director general' to be in charge of opening up the Commons to further modernisation, leaving the Clerk to specialise in giving the Speaker legal advice. The Clerk job should be re-advertised, the committee added.

As Isabel Hardman of The Spectator wrote last night: “Now Mills can notionally re-apply for the job but would struggle to meet the new criteria set out by the committee. It says the Clerk is ‘adviser to the House of Commons on the procedure and practice of Parliament, including parliamentary privilege’. The row about Mills being considered for the role was sparked by her lack of experience in this area.”

In short, it is highly unlikely Ms Mills will now get the job and Bercow’s many critics are cockahoop. Among those welcoming the news was Michael Fabricant, a Conservative MP who accused Bercow of trying to use the appointment of a weak candidate as Clerk to build up his own power over a cross-party Commons Commission of MPs who oversee the running of the House.

“The report vindicates my criticism of the Speaker and the way in which he tried to side-line the role of the Clerk of the House and dominate the work of the commission,” Fabricant told the Daily Telegraph, reminding readers that Mills’s job in Australia was to run the senate catering services.

Bercow has gained popularity with the public for trying to stop the “ya-boo” politics of the schoolyard that is a feature of Prime Minister’s Questions. But he is regarded as a bumptious upstart by his Commons critics, particularly Tories, who believe he has shifted politically from the extreme right of the Tory Party to left of most of Labour.

The Daily Mail is running extracts from a new Bercow biography which describes how he was bullied at school over his phobia of bees and insects. It quotes Cameron aides saying the Prime Minister cannot stand Bercow.

“It is very unusual for him to hate someone so much,” one of Cameron’s inner circle is quoted as saying. “When Bercow’s name comes up, he spits blood and says things like: ‘What a little s***’.”

Describing Bercow as "one of the most divisive figures in modern politics, with a talent for making enemies”, the Mail reminds us that he “finally burnt his bridges” with fellow Tories when in 2004 he sent a letter to Tony Blair, praising his leadership. “Congratulations on your superb speech in the Iraq debate,” he wrote. “On this subject, as on many other foreign affairs issues, you have provided outstanding statesmanship.”

Tory MPs believe that Labour cynically voted for Bercow to become Speaker in 2009 because they knew he would get up the noses of Cameron and his pals. They were right.

Now, the Mole hears, a cross-party group of his critics are determined to get rid of him as soon as they can in a new vote to select the Speaker in the May 2015 general election.

A group of senior politicians at Westminster have been secretly plotting to oust Bercow. They have not shown their hand yet. But the blow to his power over the appointment of Carol Mills may encourage them to come out in the open in the coming weeks.

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is the pseudonym for a London-based political consultant who writes exclusively for The