Wednesday, 24 August 2011

In defence of Sally Bercow

Some Tories haven't the backbone to act to oust the Speaker of the House of Commons. Instead, they choose to attack his wife.

It’s unfortunate that in 2011, there are some people who just can’t cope with the idea that a politician’s wife might occasionally do things which don’t fit in with the stuffy, 1950s world that is the House of Commons. (Had I used the word Parliament, I would have included the Lords and replaced 1950s with ‘nineteenth century’).  But generally speaking, we have more women in Parliament than ever before and they too have past lives and personalities which are far from the twin-set and pearls image of political spouses.

It seems that the archaic attitudes of olde England are alive and well in the form of Francesca Preece, who in a blogpost today on Total Politics, claimed that ‘political spouses should be seen and not heard’. Far from being a satire on the sort of patriarchal nonsense you might read in the Daily Mail, this article was for real.

In Preece’s line of sight was Sally Bercow, wife of the current Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow. Now, coming from the left of the party and highly favoured by Labour, the Speaker is far from flavour of the month with his erstwhile Tory colleagues. He’s attracting the sort of abuse and insults in the chamber that is not worthy of MPs – but that’s another story. Mrs Bercow’s crime it seems, is simply to have a high profile and a life story. She’s a prolific Tweeter, reformed alcoholic and a former drug user. She’s a bit bolshy, she’s had her own fair share of sexual conquests and, worst of all to many Tories, she’s a member of the Labour party. Sally Bercow does not fit in with the prim, proper world of political spouses who press the flesh and run the constituency office. So what? She is a human being. But Tories can’t stand it.
Were Bercow to battle past the men in tights to streak naked across the floor of the Commons while screaming crazed obscenities, her critics would have a point.
Were Sally Bercow to battle past the men in tights to streak naked across the floor of the Commons, screaming crazed obscenities while her husband sat back and did nothing, her critics would have a point. The office of the speaker should be respected. But the critics of John Bercow, not Sally, should be doing the honourable thing and seeking to depose him if they’re not happy with his performance.

It’s just not on to attack someone who, aside from her connection through marriage to the Speaker, is in no way responsible for that position. The responsibility for keeping order in the chamber is the job of the Speaker, and nobody else. And if Members of Parliament insist on applying this otherwise invisible moral code (I can’t see much evidence of MPs upholding a moral code any more stringently than any other human being), then they may want to begin with some of their colleagues. If a drug-taking past is so aborrent, how about picking on Louise Mensch? Or is criticising the Speaker’s wife just too easy a target?

Footnote: Sally Bercow is currently appearing in Celebrity Big Brother – and her nominated charity, Ambitious about Autism – have already received £100,000 as part of Bercow’s conditions for appearing on the show. If she survives the entire show, the charity will receive £500,000. Is such a sum not worth Bercow’s “outrageous, attention-seeking ways”?

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