To say that John Bercow divides opinion at Westminster seems altogether inadequate. This week Bercow found himself in the eye of the biggest political storm of the many that have marred his eight years in the Speaker’s chair of the House of Commons. Or, rather, in this case he very deliberately placed himself there.
On Monday afternoon Bercow stood up in parliament and, for two and a half minutes, explained to MPs why he would oppose any proposal to invite Donald Trump to address parliament during the US president’s planned state visit later this year. It was an explosive act. The Speaker, whose office is historically impartial, distant and above controversy, was plunging into the political fray to take sides on a challenge to Britain’s most important international relationship.
To his supporters it was bold and brave, an exceptional act for the exceptional times created by Trump’s election. Scottish nationalist MPs burst into applause at the end of his speech. The Speaker’s postbag has bulged with approving messages ever since. Owen Jones wrote in the Guardian that Bercow spoke for Britain.
To Bercow’s detractors, on the other hand, it was another step too far. In a formidable tirade, the Daily Mail’s sketchwriter Quentin Letts described the intervention as a “red-eyed rant” from a “vicious, careerist, small-minded martinet” who wanted to get something “off…