Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Could it be Prime Minister Bercow one day?

At the risk of giving the Tories another bout of apoplexy, there are some interesting historical precedents surrounding the election of very young House of Commons Speakers in terms of what happened in their subsequent careers.

The year 1789 is chiefly remembered for being the year of the French Revolution. But it was also the year the Commons elected two thirty-something Speakers who both went on to occupy Number 10 Downing Street.

The first of these was William Grenville, who was elected Speaker at the ripe old age of 30 and held the office only very briefly before quitting to become Home Secretary.

In his place was elected the 32-year-old Henry Addington, who remained in the Chair until 1801 when he suddenly found himself elevated to the Premiership in place of his childhood friend Pitt the Younger, who declared that Addington was the only successor he could countenance.

In the meantime, Grenville had gone into opposition, along with his close ally Charles James Fox. But in 1806, he was summoned by King George III to head up what was termed the Ministry of All Talents, though unfortunately for him, it only lasted a year.

Even further back, in 1715, one Spencer Compton was elected to the Commons chair at the age of 42 - four years younger than John Bercow is now. He served as Speaker for 12 years until 1727, when he was elevated to the House of Lords as the 1st Earl of Wilmington. In 1742, he succeeded Sir Robert Walpole as Prime Minister.

Bercow has said he will do nine years in the Chair, effectively two full Parliaments plus the toe-end of this one. That will make him 55 when he stands down - younger than Gordon Brown was when he became Prime Minister in 2007.

The only remaining question is: If Bercow did decide to pursue a post-Speakership career, would it be as a Tory or a Labour MP?

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Quiet_Man said...

Traditionally these days a speaker resigns his constituency as well as his job. So I doubt Bercow has much of a future after the next election when Cameron may insist on his resignation.

Paul Linford said...

I think you're wrong about that Quiet Man. Unless Bercow turns out to be a total disaster he will survive. Sure, an incoming Prime Minister has the authority to do a certain amount of radical stuff, but sacking the Speaker as the first act of a Cameron government? I just can't see it.

The Half-Blood Welshman said...

I don't think the precedent is valid. Prior to the 1850s, the Speaker was a partisan appointment by the government of the day (although that continued through Tony Benn's "usual channels" until the election of Wetherill against Thatcher's wishes in 1983). So the list of ex-Speakers who went on to higher office also includes Sir Thomas More, Richard Rich and Charles Manners-Sutton (1817-1835, then HC for Canada - never took up the post).

It was therefore acceptable for the Speaker to retain partisan links with one side. That is now gone - Bercow has had to "cast aside" all his principles (if indeed he had any...but that is another question) and he would be expected to quit the House of Commons on his retirement as Speaker.

As a final thought, one reason why both Grenville and Addington became Prime Minister was because they were appointed by the King. He would normally appoint a candidate who had, not a majority, but the prospect of winning most votes in the House by virtue of personal quality. Now that we have a different democratic system, it seems unlikely that the Queen would ever send for Bercow!

James.R.Skinner said...

Definately Labour. He has no general principles that support the Conservative party, and he even takes the mick out of Cameron for going to Eton (a stunt usually pulled by state-school labourites)

Robert said...

He would not fit into the New labour mantle, he have to move to the greens or the BNP to get a real labour view, OK only kidding. The fact is his belief is still with a Tory government I remember him talking about Thatcerism a few years ago, he might looks Labourish he is down right Thatcehrite.

Peter Briffa said...

It depends which party is in the ascendency when he goes.

Robert said...

Bercow as Leader of the Labour party it might work, Purnell as leader of the Tories now thats something worthing thinking about