John Bercow, former Conservative MP and speaker of the House of Commons, has announced that he has joined the Labour Party. An outspoken and eloquent speaker, Bercow is no stranger to controversy. Elected speaker of the House of Commons, he was a friend to backbenchers, a stickler for the rules and has gone viral for his loud and determined approach to maintaining discipline within the chamber.
Bercow joined the Conservative Party while at university and ran for the party national executive in 1981. He worked for a time in banking and then in 1986 he was elected councillor for London Borough of Lambeth for St Leonard's Ward.
He worked as an advisor while making a number of attempts to be elected to parliament, including two unsuccessful attempts in the 1987 and 1992 general elections. He was eventually elected MP for Buckingham in the 1997 general election and he retained this seat in 2001 and 2005. While the Conservatives were in opposition, he held and worked through a series of different briefs including Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions.
He resigned his seat in the front bench after a three whip vote was imposed against the Adoption and Children Act that would allow unmarried gay and heterosexual couples to adopt children, rather than allowing a free vote. He rejected his partied position and voted with Labour in favour of the bill. During his time in the backbenches he was very critical of Duncan Smith’s leadership. He returned to the frontbench under the new conservative leader Michael Howard as Shadow Secretary of State for International Development.
In 2010, Bercow was elected Speaker of the House after a number of years of quiet campaigning. During his campaign for the job, he vowed to get the parliament “off its knees”. After his election to speaker of the house of commons he resigned his conservative party membership.
He held the position for four terms, winning a landslide for the position after the 2017 general election. He announced that he would be retiring in 2019 on the 31st of October. In total, Bercow has served as speaker of the house through the terms of four prime ministers: Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson.
It is traditional that the retiring speaker of the house would, after stepping down, be nominated by the government for a peerage for the House of Lords. Bercow was nominated for such a position the Johnson government, with many members indicating that this may have been due to comments he has made about Brexit. He was also nominated by Jeremy Corbyn but this was move was rejected by Johnson.
Bercow has been very critical of the British government's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. In recent days he has said that he has joined the Labour party. While discussing this new move, he said that the conservative government under Prime Minister Boris Johnson is “reactionary, populist, nationalistic and sometimes even xenophobic”.
He stated that his views on a number of issues have evolved since he was a conservative member and representative. He said that; “I am motivated by support for equality, social justice and internationalism. That is the Labour brand.”
The former speaker has denied that this is a personal crusade against Boris Johnson or a move towards receiving a peerage from the Labour party. This move is surprising to some, though there had been previous rumours of a defection to Labour before he became speaker in 2007 and 2008.
Switching parties is a very bold move and can change the course of a political career either way. Winston Churchill defected to the Liberal Party for some period of time before re-joining the Conservatives. Bercow’s new party will welcome his experience and passion, giving Labour members a much needed boost after the loss of the Hartlepool by-election to the Tories.