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Keir Starmer didn’t know John Bercow was joining Labour

The news that John Bercow was joining the Labour Party came as much a surprise to Sir Keir Starmer as everyone else.

File photo dated 31/10/19 of John Bercow who has denied discussing the prospect of a peerage with Sir Keir Starmer after the former Commons speaker and Tory MP defected to the Labour Party. Issue date: Sunday June 20, 2021. - Credit: PA

The former speaker hadn’t notified him what he was going to do – and still less agreed on any “golden handshake.”

“The usual form is to leave a party that’s losing in the polls and join one that’s gaining and make it conditional on, say, a good job or a safe seat and no one can accuse me of doing either,” Bercow tells me. “This was an emotional decision, about principle, rather than one based on any personal interest.

“I’d have liked to have been able to put politics behind me, but I’ve never known a worse government than this. I’ve never seen one causing so much damage to the fabric of our society. I felt it necessary to make it clear that, so far as am concerned, we have to get behind the opposition and defeat it.”

Of the allegations in the Times that he had “secretly” met with the then Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to “lobby” him for a peerage a week after the 2019 election, Bercow said: “Labour nominated me – as I recall, in January 2020 – when it became clear the government wouldn’t. The process was delayed for months and I learned in April 2020 that the nomination had not gone through. The government wanted me blocked and I was.”

The justice secretary Lord Buckland claimed that no former speaker had done what Bercow had as holders of the office traditionally “leave party politics behind” when they step down. Bercow counters that two speakers – William Grenville and Henry Addington – went on to become prime minister. He was also leaving office at the age of 58, whereas the average of the last six speakers when they stepped down was 68.

On a further point of order, it’s not correct, either, to say Bercow was leaving the Tory party as he had not actually been a member since he was first voted in as Speaker on June 22 2009. “I took the view it was important to have no political allegiances while I was speaker,” he said.

Bercow,could als  have told Buckland – but was too dignified to do so – that speakers, when they leave office, are normally accorded a seat in the Lords, but this was a government too petty to allow him that.

Money talks

Paul Zwillenberg, CEO of the Daily Mail parent company DMGT, concedes in the company’s annual report that their events and exhibitions business has been “severely affected by travel and social distancing restrictions across the world.”

Perish the thought that all the space the Mail has been devoting to urging Boris Johnson to keep to his plan to lift the social distancing restrictions on July 19 – even bringing forward what they call “freedom day” to July 5 – might have more to do with the financial health of DMGT than that of their readers.

Prof Peter Openshaw, of Imperial College, London, tells me the use of the word “freedom” in this context is misguided. “The word conflates it with rights and liberties that have been won through, say, struggle against oppressive tyrannies,” he says. “The countries now enjoying the greatest freedom from Covid are the ones that have imposed the greatest restrictions.”

On Saturday, the Mail turned to Iain Duncan Smith, rather than any recognised authority, to pontificate. “The problem is a bunch of scientists keep pumping out these forecasts and every one of them has been wrong since day one,” he stated, somewhat startlingly.

Spectator sport

“The Lib Dems will lose on Thursday, most likely fairly badly, and they will have no one to blame but themselves.” A week before Sir Ed Davey’s emphatic victory in Chesham and Amersham, this was the Spectator’s confident prediction. These days Andrew Neil’s magazine – like perhaps his television outfit – lacks a certain sureness of touch.

When Neil replaced Matthew d’Ancona as its editor with his protege Fraser Nelson, I ceased to write for the magazine. Nelson never forgave me for asking him, after the News of the World phone-hacking scandal broke, if he intended to set an example by giving up writing his column for the rag. He continued to write for it till the bitter end.

Nicholas Watt of Newsnight is pursued by protestors – Credit: Resistance GB/YouTube

Marathon man

If not quite as rapidly as he should have done, Boris Johnson rightly condemned the loathsome thugs who threatened Nicholas Watt, Newsnight’s political editor, when they spotted him walking close to the House of Commons.

Watt, pictured, is as unflappable as he is professional. “My teenage training for the 1,500m came in handy,” he tells me, drily.

What do you think? Have your say on this and more by emailing letters@theneweuropean.co.uk

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