Did John Bercow jump before he was pushed?
Speaker of the House to stand down next summer following huge pressure over allegations of bullying
John Bercow will stand down as Speaker of the House of Commons next summer, despite a number of senior MPs calling on him to resign immediately over allegations of bullying.
In what the Daily Telegraph described as “a tense debate” prompted by a report by Dame Laura Cox into the toxic culture in Westminster, Maria Miller, the Tory chairman of the Commons’ Women and Equalities select committee, told MPs: “There needs to be a change of leadership, that includes you Mr Speaker.”
“What is clear is that the bullying and harassment is coming right from the top” she said. “It cannot be right that the very people who are being criticised so heavily in an independent report are those who are going to be deciding how it is taken forward.”
Writing in The Times, Sir Kevin Barron, who until recently led the Standards committee, reiterated that “the change in culture has to come from the top”, while another longstanding critic, James Duddridge MP, called Miller’s Commons intervention “incredibly significant” suggesting it could be a “tipping point”.
Dame Cox’s report did not take into account specific claims against Bercow, but he has faced calls for a separate inquiry after Angus Sinclair, the Speaker’s former private secretary, accused him of physically intimidating, demeaning and mimicking him before he took “compulsory early retirement” in 2010.
The Speaker reportedly told friends that he would quit his post in June or July, after a decade in office, “where he has proved a divisive figure at times”, says The Independent.
The BBC understands from “well-placed sources” Bercow has told friends and close associates he is still considering how and when to announce his departure.
“He doesn't want it to look as if he's been forced out,” said one, “but it may be it won't be enough, and some people will insist he goes much sooner.”
When he first became Speaker of the House back in 2009, Bercow pledged he would only serve nine years. That deadline passed on 22 June and it appeared he had wanted to stay on and serve a full parliamentary term to 2022.
With Parliament set to vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal over the coming months, some MPs, such as Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry, have suggested now is “absolutely not the time to be changing speaker”.
The question now is whether Bercow’s firm deadline to stand down will be enough to placate his critics and allow him to stay on until Britain formally leaves the EU in March.
Parliamentary bullying not just a British problem
While allegations of bullying and culture of sexual harassment have rocked Westminster, a separate report has revealed it is far from just a UK problem.
A study by the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has found sexism, harassment and violence against women are widespread across European parliaments.
Of the 123 women interviewed from 45 European countries, 47% said they had received threats of death, rape or beating and 68% said they had been the target of sexist comments relating to their appearance and gender stereotypes, while 25% said they had experienced sexual violence.
The study pointed out that the majority of parliaments didn't have mechanisms for women to speak out.
“While the sample size was relatively small,” says CNN, “the findings offer a snapshot into a work culture involving threats of violence, psychological harassment and sexual harassment, among other offences.”