John Bercow: Wikis


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The Right Honourable
 John Bercow

Assumed office 
22 June 2009
Monarch Elizabeth II
Preceded by Michael Martin

Member of Parliament
for Buckingham
Assumed office 
1 May 1997
Preceded by George Walden
Majority 18,129 (37.5%)

Born 19 January 1963 (1963-01-19) (age 47)
Edgware, Middlesex, England
Nationality British
Political party None
Other political
Conservative (1997–2009)
Spouse(s) Sally Illman
Children Oliver
Alma mater University of Essex
Religion Judaism

John Simon Bercow (pronounced /ˈbɝːkoʊ/; born 19 January 1963) is the current Speaker of the House of Commons in the United Kingdom, having been elected to this office in June 2009. He has been the Member of Parliament for Buckingham since 1997. Until he became Speaker, he sat in the House as a member of the Conservative Party. He served in the Shadow Cabinet under former Conservative leaders Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard.


Education and early activism

Bercow was born in Edgware, London, to a family of British Jews. The son of a taxi driver, Bercow attended Frith Manor Primary School in Woodside Park, and Finchley Manorhill, a large comprehensive school in North Finchley.

In his youth, Bercow was ranked Britain's No.1 junior tennis player. However a bout of glandular fever ended his chances of pursuing a career as a professional tennis player.[1]

Bercow graduated with a First Class Honours degree in Government from the University of Essex in 1985.[2] Professor Anthony King remembers: "When he was a student here, he was very right-wing, pretty stroppy, and very good. He was an outstanding student."[2]

As a young activist, Bercow was a member of the right-wing Conservative Monday Club, becoming Secretary of its Immigration and Repatriation Committee. However at the age of 20 he left the club, citing the views of many of the club's members as his reason.[3]

After graduating from university, Bercow was elected as the last National Chairman of the Federation of Conservative Students (FCS) from 1986-87.[2] The FCS was then broken up by the Chairman of the Conservative Party, Norman Tebbit, reportedly for being too right-wing. Bercow attracted the attention of the Conservative leadership, and in 1987 he was appointed by Tebbit as Vice-Chairman of the Conservative Collegiate Forum (the successor organisation of the FCS) to head the campaign for student support in the run-up to the 1987 General Election.

After a spell in merchant banking, Bercow joined the lobbying firm Rowland Sallingbury Casey in 1988, becoming a board director within five years. He later worked in a political lobbying job with the advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi.[4]

With fellow Conservative Julian Lewis, Bercow ran an Advanced Speaking and Campaigning course for over ten years, which trained over 600 Conservatives (including several current MPs) in campaigning and communication techniques. He has also lectured in the United States to students of the Leadership Institute.[4]

Councillor and Government advisor

In 1986, Bercow was elected as a Conservative councillor in the London Borough of Lambeth. He served as a councillor for four years. In 1987, he was appointed the youngest Deputy Group Leader[citation needed] in the United Kingdom.

In 1995, Bercow was appointed as a Special Adviser to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Jonathan Aitken. After Aitken's resignation to fight a libel action, Bercow served as a Special Adviser to the Secretary of State for National Heritage, Virginia Bottomley.

Bercow was an unsuccessful Conservative candidate in the 1987 General Election in Motherwell, and again at the 1992 General Election in Bristol South. In 1996, he paid £1,000 to hire a helicopter so that he could attend the selection meetings for two safe Conservative parliamentary seats on the same day – Buckingham and Surrey Heath – and was selected as the candidate for Buckingham. He has referred to the hiring of the helicopter as "the best £1,000 I have ever spent".[5]

Parliamentary career

Bercow was first elected to parliament in the 1997 General Election as the MP for Buckingham with a majority of 12,386. He has since increased his majority, having been elected at the 2005 General Election by a margin of 18,129 votes.

Bercow rose quickly through the opposition's junior offices. He was appointed a frontbench spokesman for Education and Employment in June 1999, and then a frontbench spokesman for Home Affairs in July 2000, before being brought into the Shadow Cabinet in 2001 by the Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith. He served as Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury from September 2001-July 2002, and as Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions from July-November 2002. During this first spell on the front bench, Bercow publicly stated that he thought his lack of ruthlessness would prevent him from rising any further through the ranks.[citation needed] In November 2002, when the Labour government introduced the Adoption and Children Act which would allow unmarried gay and heterosexual couples to adopt children, Duncan Smith imposed a three-line whip requiring Conservative MPs to vote against the bill rather than allowing a free vote. In protest, Bercow defied the whips and voted with the government arguing that it should be a free vote. He then resigned from the front bench.[6] As a backbencher he was openly critical of Duncan Smith's leadership, declaring that he was about as likely to "meet an Eskimo in the desert" as Duncan Smith was to win the next general election.[7]

In November 2003, the new Conservative Leader Michael Howard appointed Bercow as Shadow Secretary of State for International Development. However he went on to clash with Howard over taxes, immigration and Iraq,[8] and was sacked from the frontbench in September 2004 after telling Howard that Ann Widdecombe was right to have said that there was "something of the night about him".[9]

Bercow has a long-standing interest in Burma and frequently raised issues of democracy and genocide in the country. In 2006 he was made a Patron of the Tory Reform Group.[10] In 2001, he also supported the ban on MPs becoming members of the Monday Club, an organisation of which he is a former member (see above).[11]


Opposition MP of the Year

In 2005, Bercow won the Channel Four/Hansard Society Political Award for 'Opposition MP of the Year'. He said:

I shall treasure this award and I am extremely grateful to my colleagues for it. Winning it has raised the question of what is good opposition. I think that the public is fed up with one politician simply ranting at another politician for the sake of it. The public deserves to see a more measured and constructive approach to politics. In addition to pursuing a wide variety of local issues, I have attempted to question, probe and scrutinise the Government in the House of Commons on important national and international topics which concern people. Over the last 12 months, I have constantly pressed the case for reform of world trade rules to give the poorest people on the planet a chance to sell their products and improve their quality of life. The plight of the people of Darfur, Western Sudan, has also been a regular theme. They have suffered too much for too long with too little done about the situation. I shall go on arguing for Britain to take the lead in the international community in seeking decisive action for peace and justice.[12]

Rumours of defection

Following the defection of Conservative MP Quentin Davies to the Labour Party in June 2007, there were persistent Westminster rumours[13] that Bercow was likely to be the next Conservative MP to leave the party.

Despite the rumours, Bercow did not defect to the Labour Party. However, in September 2007, Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that Bercow had accepted an advisory post on the Labour government's review of support for children with speech, language and communication special needs. The Conservative Party Chairman, Caroline Spelman, confirmed that this appointment was with the consent of the Conservative Party.[14] Bercow had a long-term interest in this topic. As he mentioned in a speech in the House of Commons on 1 February 2008,[15] his son Oliver has been diagnosed with autism.

The Bercow Review

In 2008, John Bercow was asked by the Labour Cabinet members Ed Balls and Alan Johnson to produce a substantial review of children and families affected by speech, language and communication needs (SLCN). After the report, the government pledged £52 million to raise the profile of SLCN within the education field.

The review looks at the extreme consequences that communication problems can lead to – from initial frustration at not being able to express oneself, to bullying or being bullied at school, fewer job prospects and even the descent into criminality.[16]

The interim report highlighted a number of core issues: that speech, language and communication are not only essential life skills but fundamental human rights;[17] that early identification of problems and intervention is important to avoid social problems later on; and that the current system of treatment is patchy, i.e. there is a need for services to be continually provided for children and families from an early age.

Role in Expenses Scandal

In the financial years 2007-8, 2006-7, 2004-5 and 2002-3 Bercow occupied joint first position in a league table of highest-claiming members of the House of Commons, while in 2003-4 he was the joint third.[18]. However, in 2008/09 Bercow's total expenses were amongst the lowest claimed by MPs (coming 631st out of 645).[19]

'Flipping' of Second Home

During the 2009 parliamentary expenses scandal, it was revealed that Bercow changed the designation of his second home on more than one occasion – meaning that he avoided paying capital gains tax on the sale of two properties. He also claimed just under £1,000 to hire an accountant to fill in his tax returns. Bercow denied any wrongdoing, but agreed to pay £6,508 to cover any tax which he may have had to pay to HM Revenue and Customs.[20]

Commons Speaker

Bercow had long campaigned quietly to become Speaker[21] and was touted as a successor to Michael Martin. On 20 May 2009, he officially announced his intention to stand in the Speakership election which had been triggered by Martin's resignation, and launched his manifesto for the job.[22] In the first round of the election on 22 June, Bercow received 179 votes – more than any other candidate, but short of the majority required for victory. In the third and final round of voting later that day, he defeated Sir George Young by 322 votes to 271,[23] and was approved by the Queen at 10pm that night as the 157th Speaker.

Bercow's election as Speaker was controversial because he is believed to have had the support of very few MPs from his own party. Fellow Conservative MPs generally viewed Bercow with distrust due to his changing political views (having moved over the years from being very right-wing to become more socially liberal, leading to clashes with past party leaders), his acceptance of an advisory role from the Labour government (a party he had often been rumoured to be on the verge of joining), his general lack of good relations with fellow MPs from his own party, and his vigorous campaigning for the Speaker's job. It has been speculated that he received the votes of as few as three of his fellow Conservative MPs. However he received the votes of a large number of Labour MPs, many of whom were angered at the way they perceived Michael Martin to have been hounded out of the job and wanted his replacement to be someone who was not a favourite son of the Conservative Party.[24][25]

Bercow is the first Jewish Speaker,[26] the first Speaker to have been elected by an exhaustive ballot, and the first Speaker not to wear traditional court robes while presiding over the House of Commons.[27]

Grace-and-favour Westminster apartment refurbishment Controversy

Within weeks of assuming Office as Speaker of the House of Commons, Bercow spent £45,581.00 of parliamentary money refurbishing his grace and favour apartment in the Palace of Westminster. Mr and Mrs Bercow's requests included a new, bigger television, redecoration and a DVD player.[28] The previous Speaker had already spent £700,000 on refurbishing the apartment.[29]

Threats to unseat at constituency level

In defiance of the convention that Speakers of the House of Commons are above party politics and therefore unopposed at general elections, the run up to the 2010 election revealed that Bercow would face a challenge in his Buckinghamshire constituency [30].

First, in September 2009 Nigel Farage resigned his leadership of the UKIP to challenge Bercow, asserting: “This man represents all that is wrong with British politics today. He was embroiled in the expenses saga and he presides over a Parliament that virtually does nothing.”[31]

Referral to Standards Commissioner

In February 2010, controversy emerged surrounding the so-called ‘Friends of Speaker Bercow’, a group of fundraisers seeking £40,000 of donations to bankroll the MP’s constituency campaign at the election.

It was alleged that there had been improper use of the office of Speaker, while soliciting funds for re-election, and that this had been improperly co-ordinated with invitations to the Palace of Westminster [32]. The Times reported that this lead to a complaint being filed with the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards [33].

Personal life

Bercow married Sally Illman (now Sally Bercow) in December 2002. The couple first met in 1989 when they were attending a Conservative Student conference. Sally was then a Conservative-supporting undergraduate student, however she left the Conservative Party in the early 1990s and has been a member of the Labour Party since 1997. She is currently the Treasurer of her local Labour Party branch (Pimlico and St James'). Bercow's marriage to Sally was among the factors which fuelled the persistent rumours that he was considering defecting to the Labour Party. They have three children.

Bercow's wife was placed in December 2009 on an official list of approved prospective candidates for the Labour party, giving her the go-ahead to seek a parliamentary seat in the 2010 election. If successful, it is thought that this would be the first time that a married couple would find themselves in the position of having represented different parties in the House of Commons. This decision was criticised by The Times for its potential to create a conflict of interests with the impartial chairing role of the Speaker.[34]

According to Bercow's constituency website, he enjoys tennis, squash, swimming, reading and music and is a qualified lawn tennis coach.


  1. ^ The 10 who want to be called Mr Speaker, East Anglian Daily Times, 17 June 2009
  2. ^ a b c Essex graduate new speaker, Colchester Campus, Government, 23 June 2009
  3. ^ "Profile: John Bercow". BBC Online. 4 November 2002. Retrieved 28 January 2009. 
  4. ^ a b John Bercow: Little Mr Turncoat in an awfully big chair, The Sunday Times, 28 June 2009
  5. ^ BBC News: The John Bercow story
  6. ^ "Tory resigns over adoption vote". BBC News online. 4 November 2002. Retrieved 24 November 2007. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ Bercow Says He's Relieved to Quit U.K. Conservatives, 26 June 2009
  9. ^ Profile: Commons Speaker, John Bercow, The Guardian, 22 June 2009
  10. ^ About People page, Tory Reform Group
  11. ^ "Tory MPs resign from far-right club". BBC News online. 7 October 2001. Retrieved 24 November 2007. 
  12. ^ "Opposition MP of the Year for 2005". Buckingham Conservative Association. 8 February 2005. Retrieved 24 November 2007. 
  13. ^ "Bercow defection is expected at time of maximum embarrassment". 14 July 2007. Retrieved 24 November 2007. 
  14. ^ "Mercer and Bercow to advise Brown". BBC News online. 3 September 2007. Retrieved 24 November 2007. 
  15. ^
  16. ^ Retrieved on 24 Sep 2008
  17. ^ Retrieved on 22 Sep 2008
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ "John Bercow says he is ready for the Speaker's role". The Guardian. 20 May 2009. Retrieved 20 May 2009. 
  23. ^
  24. ^ Farewell to tights as new Speaker John Bercow presides over Commons, The Times, 24 June 2009
  25. ^ Laws, sausages, speakers, The Economist, 25 June 2009
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
George Walden
Member of Parliament for Buckingham
Preceded by
Michael Martin
Speaker of the House of Commons
Order of precedence in England and Wales
Preceded by
The Lord Mandelson
Lord President of the Council
Speaker of the House of Commons
Succeeded by
The Rt Hon Lord Judge PC
Lord Chief Justice
Order of precedence in Scotland
Preceded by
The Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP
Prime Minister
Speaker of the House of Commons
Succeeded by
The Rt Hon Alex Salmond MP MSP
Keeper of the Great Seal of Scotland
Order of precedence in Northern Ireland
Preceded by
The Lord Mandelson
Lord President of the Council
Speaker of the House of Commons
Succeeded by
The Rt Hon Peter Hain MP
Lord Privy Seal

Simple English

John Bercow is the Speaker of the House of Commons.

John Simon Bercow (surname pronounce BER-COE;born January 19, 1963 in Middlesex, England) is a British politician who is the Speaker of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom. He is the Member of Parliament (MP) for the constituency of Buckinghamshire.

John Bercow was active in the Conservative Party from a young age and was a Conservative councillor, for Lambeth, from 1986 to 1990. He tried to become an MP at the 1987 and 1992 General Elections but was not successful. At the 1997 General Election, Bercow was elected the Conservative MP for Buckinghamshire. He served in the shadow cabinets of Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard. After the Speaker of the House of Commons Michael Martin resigned on June 22, 2009, John Bercow was elected as the Speaker.


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