Entering the Mile End Institute’s “In Conversation with John Bercow” I was sceptical. Despite, his Conservative allegiance Bercow had always insisted he was a true centrist; I wasn’t so sure. I was also worried that perhaps Bercow would be subdued, I wasn’t convinced that his House of Commons charisma wasn’t merely an act, and when faced with academics and students he would adopt a more serious tone.
I was wrong.
The evening began with discussion of Bercow’s political journey and of course he was questioned about the Monday Club (far-right Tory pressure group). Bercow admitted his “abiding shame” at being a member as well as commenting that he was “quite ideological”. I found his self-analysis insightful and refreshing. Unlike other politicians (cough, Clinton, cough) he actually was eager to admit to his mistakes. In fact he admitted to quite a few of them.
Bercow’s mistakes (according to Bercow)
1. Being a member of the Monday Club
2. Opposing equal gay rights for so long
3. The handling of the last 48 hours of the 2010-2015 government
4. His “overly abrasive” nature when he began as Speaker
5. Being a supporter of Enoch Powell
6. Not specialising in Parliament
However, one area Bercow was adamant he had not made a mistake was with the Donald Trump saga. In the talk he adamantly defended his stance to not invite Trump to speak in the House of Commons if he were to have a State visit. “This issue is not about free speech […] it is an earned honour.” Bercow insisted he was talking for “the majority” of M.P’s and still to this day does not regret his decision. This was met with a large round of applause from the audience.
And that leads me on to what made this talk so exciting for me. Despite not being a fan of Bercow, I admired his self-reflection, his conviction and also his sassiness. From asserting that he doesn’t “give a flying flamingo” about Andrew Neil to ripping William Hague to absolute shreds, his opinionated and cutting witticisms about his colleagues really got the audience on board to the point where a small standing ovation was offered by a few.
Summing up John Bercow is easiest when using his own words “I am not a team player” yet, perhaps this is why he is such a successful speaker and prominent politician. His opinions are insightful and critical of not only his colleagues but also of himself.