John Simon Bercow //; born 19 January 1963) is a British politician who was Speaker of the House of Commons from 2009 to 2019, and Member of Parliament (MP) for Buckingham between 1997 and 2019. He was the first MP since Selwyn Lloyd in 1971 who was elected Speaker without having been a Deputy Speaker. Until his election as Speaker, he was a Conservative MP.(
|Speaker of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom|
22 June 2009 – 4 November 2019
|Preceded by||Michael Martin|
|Succeeded by||Lindsay Hoyle|
|Shadow Secretary of State for International Development|
10 November 2003 – 8 September 2004
|Preceded by||Caroline Spelman|
|Succeeded by||Alan Duncan|
|Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury|
18 September 2001 – 23 July 2002
|Leader||Iain Duncan Smith|
|Preceded by||Oliver Letwin|
|Succeeded by||Howard Flight|
|Member of Parliament|
1 May 1997 – 4 November 2019
|Preceded by||George Walden|
|Succeeded by||Greg Smith|
|Chancellor of the University of Essex|
|Assumed office |
22 July 2017
|Vice Chancellor||Anthony Forster|
|Preceded by||Shami Chakrabarti|
|Chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire|
|Assumed office |
25 July 2014
|Vice Chancellor||Bill Rammell|
|Preceded by||The Baroness Howells of St Davids|
|Member of Lambeth London Borough Council for St Leonard's ward|
John Simon Bercow
19 January 1963
Edgware, London, England
|Alma mater||University of Essex (BA)|
He was a councillor in the London Borough of Lambeth from 1986 to 1990 and unsuccessfully contested Parliamentary seats in the 1987 and 1992 general elections, before being elected for Buckingham in 1997. Promoted to the Shadow Cabinet in 2001, Bercow held posts under Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard. In November 2002, he resigned over a dispute concerning his support for the Adoption and Children Act 2002, but returned a year later, only to be dismissed from the Shadow Cabinet in 2004. Having initially been strongly associated with the right-wing faction of his party, his views shifted; by 2009 there were rumours that he would defect to the Labour Party.
On resignation of Michael Martin in June 2009, Bercow stood successfully in the election to replace him as Speaker. He was re-elected unopposed at the start of the Parliaments in 2010, 2015 and 2017. This made him the first Speaker since the Second World War to have been elected four times, as well as the first since then to have served alongside four Prime Ministers. In September 2019, Bercow declared that he would stand down as Commons Speaker and MP on 31 October; he remained Speaker until being appointed to the Manor of Northstead on 4 November 2019. Having served 10 years as Speaker, Bercow became the longest-serving Speaker since Edward FitzRoy, who served nearly 15 years in post between 1928 and 1943.
In 2014, Bercow was appointed Chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire, and in July 2017 he was appointed Chancellor of the University of Essex. In January 2020, he became part-time professor of politics at Royal Holloway, University of London.
Early life and education
Bercow was born in Edgware, Middlesex, the son of Brenda (Bailey) and Charles Bercow, a taxi driver. His father was born to a Jewish family and his mother converted to Judaism. His paternal grandparents were Jews who arrived in Britain from Romania in the early 20th century. Having settled in the UK, the family anglicised its surname from Berkowitz to Bercow. Bercow attended Frith Manor Primary School in Woodside Park, and Finchley Manorhill, a large comprehensive school in North Finchley. In his youth, Bercow had been a successful junior tennis player, but was too short to go professional. In 1975 he appeared on the UK children's television series Crackerjack!.
Bercow graduated with a first-class honours degree in government from the University of Essex in 1985. Anthony King, a professor at the university, has said about Bercow that "When he was a student here, he was very right-wing, pretty stroppy, and very good. He was an outstanding student." As a young activist, Bercow was a member of the right-wing Conservative Monday Club. He stood as a candidate for the club's national executive in 1981 with a manifesto calling for a programme of "assisted repatriation" of immigrants, and became secretary of its immigration and repatriation committee. However, at the age of 20 he left the club, citing the views of many of the club's members as his reason, and has since then called his participation in the club "utter madness" and dismissed his views from that period as "bone headed".
After graduating from the University of Essex, Bercow was elected as the last national chairman of the Federation of Conservative Students (FCS), 1986–87. The FCS was then broken up by the chairman of the Conservative Party, Norman Tebbit, after one of its members had accused previous Tory PM Harold Macmillan of war crimes in extraditing Cossacks to the Soviet Union. Bercow attracted the attention of the Conservative leadership, and in 1987 he was appointed by Tebbit as vice-chairman of the Conservative Collegiate Forum (the successor organisation of the FCS) to head the campaign for student support in the run-up to the 1987 general election.
After a spell in merchant banking, Bercow joined the lobbying firm Rowland Sallingbury Casey (part of Saatchi & Saatchi) in 1988, becoming a board director within five years. With fellow Conservative Julian Lewis, Bercow ran an advanced speaking and campaigning course for over 10 years, which trained over 600 Conservatives (including several current MPs) in campaigning and communication techniques. He has also lectured in the United States to students of the Leadership Institute.
In 1986, Bercow was elected as a Conservative councillor in the London Borough of Lambeth, and served for four years representing the Streatham, St Leonard's ward. In 1987, he was appointed the youngest deputy group leader in the United Kingdom.
In 1995, Bercow was appointed as a special adviser to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Jonathan Aitken. After Aitken's resignation to fight a libel action, Bercow served as a special adviser to the Secretary of State for National Heritage, Virginia Bottomley.
Bercow was an unsuccessful Conservative candidate in the 1987 general election in Motherwell South, and again at the 1992 general election in Bristol South. In 1996 he paid £1,000 to charter a helicopter so that he could attend the selection meetings for two safe Conservative parliamentary seats on the same day – Buckingham and Surrey Heath – and was selected as the candidate for Buckingham. He has referred to the hiring of the helicopter as "the best £1,000 I have ever spent".
Bercow was first elected to parliament in the 1997 general election as the MP for Buckingham with a majority of 12,386. He then increased his majority at the 2001 general election being elected by a margin of 18,129 votes. He was re-elected at the 2005 general election, but with a reduced majority of 12,529.
Bercow rose quickly through the opposition's junior offices. He was appointed a frontbench spokesman for Education and Employment in June 1999, and then a frontbench spokesman for Home Affairs in July 2000, before being brought into the shadow cabinet in 2001 by the Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith. He served as Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury from September 2001 to July 2002, and as Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions from July to November 2002. During this first spell on the front benches, Bercow publicly said that he did not think he was ruthless enough to reach the top of politics. In November 2002, when the Labour government introduced the Adoption and Children Act, which would allow unmarried gay and heterosexual couples to adopt children, Duncan Smith imposed a three-line whip requiring Conservative MPs to vote against the bill, rather than allowing a free vote. Arguing that it should be a free vote, Bercow defied the whips and voted with Labour, then resigned from the front bench. As a backbencher he was openly critical of Duncan Smith's leadership.
In November 2003, the new Conservative leader Michael Howard appointed Bercow as Shadow Secretary of State for International Development. However, he went on to clash with Howard over taxes, immigration and Iraq, and was sacked from the front bench in September 2004 after telling Howard that Ann Widdecombe was right to have said that there was "something of the night about him". Bercow has a long-standing interest in Burma and frequently raised issues of democracy and genocide in the country. In 2006 he was made a patron of the Tory Reform Group. In 2001, he supported the ban on MPs becoming members of the Monday Club.
Bercow was formerly the treasurer of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tribal Peoples, an APPG composed of over 30 cross-party MPs which aims to raise parliamentary and public awareness of tribal peoples.
Bercow won the Stonewall award for Politician of the Year in 2010 for his work to support equality for lesbian, gay and bisexual people. He was given a score of 100% in favour of lesbian, gay and bisexual equality by Stonewall.
Opposition MP of the Year
In 2005, Bercow won the Channel Four/Hansard Society Political Award for 'Opposition MP of the Year'. He said:
In addition to pursuing a wide variety of local issues, I have attempted to question, probe and scrutinise the Government in the House of Commons on important national and international topics which concern people. Over the last 12 months, I have constantly pressed the case for reform of world trade rules to give the poorest people on the planet a chance to sell their products and improve their quality of life. The plight of the people of Darfur, Western Sudan, has also been a regular theme. They have suffered too much for too long with too little done about the situation. I shall go on arguing for Britain to take the lead in the international community in seeking decisive action for peace and justice.
Rumours of defection
Bercow did not defect to Labour, but in September 2007, accepted an advisory post on Gordon Brown's government's review of support for children with speech, language and communication special needs. The Conservative Party chairman, Caroline Spelman, confirmed that this appointment was with the consent of the Conservative Party. Bercow had a long-term interest in this topic, as his son Oliver has been diagnosed with autism.
In 2008, Bercow was asked by Labour cabinet members Ed Balls and Alan Johnson to produce a substantial review of children and families affected by speech, language and communication needs (SLCN). After the report, the government pledged £52 million to raise the profile of SLCN within the education field.
The review looks at the extreme consequences to which communication problems can lead; from initial frustration at not being able to express oneself, to bullying or being bullied at school, fewer job prospects and even a descent into criminality.
The interim report highlighted a number of core issues: that speech, language and communication are not only essential life skills but fundamental human rights; that early identification of problems and intervention is important to avoid social problems later on; and that the current system of treatment is patchy, i.e. there is a need for services to be continually provided for children and families from an early age.
Role in expenses scandal
Until 2008/09 Bercow usually claimed the maximum available amount for the 'Additional Costs Allowance' to pay for the cost of staying away from his main home. In 2007/08 and 2008/09 his total expenses were amongst the lowest claimed by MPs (coming 631st and 640th, respectively, out of 645 and 647).
During the 2009 expenses scandal, it was revealed that Bercow changed the designation of his second home on more than one occasion – meaning that he avoided paying capital gains tax on the sale of two properties. He also claimed just under £1,000 to hire an accountant to fill in his tax returns. Bercow denied any wrongdoing, but agreed to pay £6,508 to cover any tax that he may have had to pay to HM Revenue and Customs.
It was revealed in 2014 that the House of Commons authorities had destroyed all evidence of MPs' expenses claims prior to 2010. Bercow faced accusations that he had presided over what had been dubbed a "fresh cover-up" of the expenses scandal.
In July 2015, Bercow was again criticised for the amount of his expenses, including a claim of £172 for a 0.7-mile chauffeur-driven journey. Andy Silvester, campaign director at the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "This is an obscene waste of money and shows appalling judgment from whoever made the arrangements."
Bercow has supported a number of charities. He is a Patron of the ME Association, Brain Tumour Research and a Patron of the Patchwork Foundation founded by Harris Bokhari. He has also spoken at and supported other charities such as the mental health charity Jami. He recently supported a fundraiser for Children in Need.
Speaker of the House of Commons
Election and first term
Bercow had long campaigned quietly to become Speaker and was touted as a successor to Michael Martin. On 20 May 2009, he officially declared to stand in the Speakership election, which had been triggered by Martin's resignation, and launched his manifesto for the job. In reference to his decision to stand, Bercow said: "I wanted it because I felt that there was a task to be undertaken and that's about strengthening backbench involvement and opportunity in parliament, and helping parliament get off its knees and recognise that it isn't just there as a rubber-stamping operation for the government of the day, and as necessary and appropriate to contradict and expose the government of the day."
In the first round of the election on 22 June, Bercow received 179 votes – more than any other candidate, but short of the majority required for victory. In the third and final round of voting later that day, he defeated George Young by 322 votes to 271, and was approved by the Queen at 10 pm that night as the 157th Speaker. In accordance with convention, he rescinded his Conservative party membership.
Bercow's election as Speaker was controversial because he is believed to have had the support of very few MPs from his former party. Conservative MPs generally viewed Bercow with distrust because of his changing political views (having moved over the years from being very right-wing to become more socially liberal, leading to clashes with past party leaders), his acceptance of an advisory role from the Labour government (a party he had often been rumoured to be on the verge of joining), his general lack of good relations with fellow MPs from the Conservatives, and his vigorous campaigning for the Speaker's job. Thought[by whom?] to have received the votes of as few as three of his fellow Conservative MPs, he succeeded on the back of a large number of Labour votes, many MPs being driven by the perception that Michael Martin had been hounded out of the job and wanting his replacement to be someone who was not a Conservative Party favourite.
Bercow was the first Speaker who is Jewish, the first Speaker to have been elected by an exhaustive ballot, and the first Speaker not to wear traditional court robes while presiding over the House of Commons. However, in accordance with tradition, Bercow did display his coat of arms at Speaker's House.
Speaker's residence refurbishment
Within weeks of taking office as Speaker, Bercow ordered a redecoration and refurbishment of the Speaker's grace and favour apartment in the Palace of Westminster, partly with the objective of making it child-friendly; the work cost £20,659 and was paid for by Parliament. It followed extensive work on the apartment under the previous Speaker.
In October 2009, Bercow chaired the United Kingdom Youth Parliament's first annual sitting in the House of Commons, making them the only group except members of parliament to sit in the chamber. He chaired every subsequent sitting and attended every annual conference until his resignation in 2019, addressing and supporting Members of Youth Parliament from across the UK.
2010 general election and second term
The Speaker of the House of Commons is traditionally seen as outside party politics, and is often not challenged by the main parties at general elections, including the 2010 general election. In September 2009, Nigel Farage resigned his leadership of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) to stand for Bercow's Buckingham seat, asserting, "This man represents all that is wrong with British politics today. He was embroiled in the expenses saga and he presides over a Parliament that virtually does nothing." John Stevens, another candidate, found support for his campaign from the former Independent MP Martin Bell. Bercow also faced opposition from the British National Party and the Christian Party.
As Bercow lacked a party endorsement and therefore a campaign team, he sought to build one. A group of his supporters known as 'Friends of Speaker Bercow' solicited donations for the campaign, aiming to raise £40,000. When one of their letters was received by a member of UKIP, the recipient referred it to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, complaining that it appeared that Bercow's fundraising campaign was operating from the Speaker's Office, which is required to remain politically neutral. The Commissioner declined to launch an investigation because of the lack of evidence.
To mark the centenary of the Parliament Act 1911, Bercow commissioned a series of lectures about the main political figures of the century. The Speaker's Lectures continue with a variety of topics such as historic parliamentarians and current affairs.
2015 general election and third term
On 26 March 2015, the House of Commons defeated a government motion (introduced by former Conservative party leader and then leader of the House of Commons William Hague) to require there to be a secret ballot vote on whether Bercow remain speaker after the 2015 general election. A number of MPs described it as an underhand plot to oust Bercow, largely based on the timing of the motion just before the dissolution of Parliament, when some Labour MPs expected to oppose it had already returned to their constituencies. In the event, Bercow was re-elected unopposed as Speaker following the general election.
On 6 February 2017, Bercow said in the house that he would be "strongly opposed" to US President Donald Trump addressing the Houses of Parliament during his planned state visit to the UK, and told MPs that "opposition to racism and sexism" were "hugely important considerations". The comments proved controversial and made the headlines in many UK newspapers the following day, with some such as Guardian columnist Owen Jones, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP Dennis Skinner and Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron supporting this intervention. His comments were criticised even by some opponents of Trump (such as Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi), however, for being hypocritical and undermining the Speaker's neutrality, and some in the government reportedly felt that Bercow had overstepped his role. John Whittingdale, the Conservative MP for Maldon and a former Culture Secretary, dismissed Bercow's remarks as "playing to the gallery for as much publicity as possible", and Bercow himself apologised to the Lord Speaker Lord Fowler over a lack of consultation over his remarks.
2017 general election and fourth term
Following the 2017 general election, John Bercow was unanimously re-elected as Speaker of the House by members of parliament on 13 June 2017.
In May 2018, Bercow's former private secretary Angus Sinclair alleged on the BBC's Newsnight programme that Bercow had repeatedly bullied him while at work. Sinclair said that he was told to sign a non-disclosure agreement when he left his post, to prevent him revealing Bercow's bullying. Bercow denied the claims. Sinclair's allegations came not long after the BBC reported that his successor as Bercow's private secretary, Kate Emms, had been signed off work and then moved to another role. Unnamed colleagues of Emms had told the BBC's Newsnight programme that her sickness and change of role were because of bullying by Bercow.
In January 2020, Lord Lisvane, who served as Clerk of the House of Commons under Bercow, submitted a formal complaint to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. The submission is understood by The Times and the BBC to allege that Bercow bullied his staff. The same month, Lisvane's complaint was followed up by a further accusation of bullying, made by the former Black Rod, Lieutenant-General David Leakey.
In October 2018, Bercow had called for an independent body to be set up to investigate allegations of harassment and bullying in Parliament, after facing calls to quit after a report said harassment had been tolerated and concealed for years which he denies. On 23 October 2018, three Conservative MPs, Will Quince, Mims Davies and Anne Milton, resigned from the Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion, which is chaired by Bercow, and cited Bercow's handling of bullying and sexual harassment allegations in Parliament as the reason for doing so.
In January 2019, Bercow broke with convention, allowing a vote on an amendment to a government business motion. The amendment, tabled by Dominic Grieve MP, required the Prime Minister (Theresa May) to table a motion within three days on proposed alternative plans if her Brexit deal was rejected by Parliament.
On 18 March 2019, Bercow, in a statement to the House, pre-empted a move by the Government to bring the UK/EU Withdrawal Agreement for a third vote. Citing a convention which dates back to 1604, Bercow stated that he would not allow a vote on a motion which was "substantially the same" as a previously rejected motion.
Retirement as Speaker
In October 2018, it was reported that Bercow intended to step down as Speaker in the summer of 2019, but in January 2019 it was reported that he planned to stay as Speaker until the end of the parliament, in 2022. On 9 September 2019, amid debates about Brexit and parliament being prorogued, Bercow declared to the House of Commons that he would stand down on 31 October, or at the next general election, whichever was sooner; the former applied.
Despite the convention that former Speakers of the House of Commons are elevated to membership of the House of Lords when they resign, reports from the Cabinet suggested Bercow might be denied a peerage by the Prime Minister due to his perceived lack of impartiality and the difficulties he was seen to have caused the government over Brexit. Bercow has become the first ex-Speaker since the retirement of Arthur Onslow in 1761 to have been eligible for, but not have been made the offer of, a peerage. Overall, he is the tenth Speaker not to receive a Peerage since the 1707 Act of Union, and the fifth since Onslow's retirement not to be immediately elevated to the House of Lords: Charles Wolfran Cornwall died in office with no peerage offer to his surviving family, John Henry Whitley was offered but declined, and following the deaths of Edward Fitzroy and Sir Harry Hylton-Foster in office, their widows were ennobled instead.
On 4 November 2019, Bercow was appointed by Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid as Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead; since members of the House of Commons are prohibited from resigning, the legal device of appointment to an "office of profit under The Crown" is used to permit members to leave their legislative offices.
On 6 November 2019, Bercow gave a speech in London to the Foreign Press Association stating that he "think[s] that Brexit is the biggest foreign policy mistake in the post-war period, and that is my honest view." This led to further questions about Bercow's impartiality during the Brexit parliamentary debates. He maintained that he was fair in treating Remainers and Leavers during the debates, and only made his views clear once he didn't need to be impartial anymore.
His autobiography, Unspeakable, was published in 2020. In his memoirs, he was highly critical of David Cameron, Theresa May, Boris Johnson and Andrea Leadsom. Bercow has since identified himself as a 'soft leftist' and declared that he voted for Sadiq Khan to be Mayor of London. He was also nominated for a peerage by Jeremy Corbyn but this was refused by Boris Johnson. Bercow has also been very critical of the Conservative government's handling of COVID-19 since leaving Parliament.
Bercow married Sally Illman in 2002 after 13 years of an "on-off" relationship, and they have three children. Their elder son, Oliver, is autistic. His wife, who used to be a Conservative, switched to supporting the Labour Party, campaigning for both her husband individually and Labour in the wider election in 1997. Bercow and those close to him reject the view that she was especially influential in changing his political views. Bercow has spoken of "periods of turbulence" in the marriage—Sally left him for a time and had an affair with his cousin Alan Bercow, after which he made preparations to divorce her—but described his wife as "a rock". Both he and his wife are teetotalers.
Bercow is a humanist, and before taking the role of Speaker was a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group. When discussing the role of clergy in Parliament, he described himself in a Commons debate as "an irreligious person taking a secular interest in an important subject".
Bercow has been a fan of Arsenal F.C. since January 1971 and is a season ticket holder. He always attends games with his son, and has appeared on AFTV. In 2014 his book Tennis Maestros: The Twenty Greatest Male Tennis Players of All Time was published by Biteback Publishing.
- Tennis Maestros: The Twenty Greatest Male Tennis Players of All Time. Biteback Publishing, 2014.
- Unspeakable: The Autobiography. W&N. 6 February 2020. ISBN 978-1474616621.
- Commonwealth honours
|United Kingdom||2009–present||Member of Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council||PC|
- University degrees
|England||1985||University of Essex||First-class honours Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Government|
- Chancellor, visitor, governor, rector and fellowships
|England||2014–present||University of Bedfordshire||Chancellor|
|England||18 July 2017 – present||University of Essex||Chancellor|
|England||27 January 2017 – present||University of Manchester||Honorary Professor|
|England||4 November 2019 – present||Birkbeck, University of London||Fellowship|
|England||24 January 2020 – present||Royal Holloway, University of London||Professorship of Politics|
- Honorary degrees
|England||2010||University of Essex||Doctor of the University (D.Univ)|
|England||16 March 2013||University of Buckingham||Doctor of Laws (LL.D)|
|England||23 January 2014||De Montfort University||Doctorate|
|England||30 January 2014||City, University of London||Doctor of Science (D.Sc)|
Freedom of the City
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After being elected for four consecutive terms as Speaker, and serving under four prime ministers, Bercow is exiting at a time of high drama and tension in the U.K.
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Bercow is the longest-serving Speaker since Edward FitzRoy served 15 years in post between 1928 and 1943, and the first Speaker since FitzRoy to serve under four Prime Ministers.
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