Deborah Frances-White: Hello to all of you listening On Her Majesty’s internet. I’m sitting here with former Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow. Hello, John. Hello,
John Bercow: Good afternoon to you, Deborah.
Deborah Frances-White: This is the first episode of our new podcast, Absolute Power in which John is going to be my guide through all of the bits and pieces of our great British democracy at you might be putting the great in inverted commas, listeners, I don’t know. John, welcome to the world of podcasting.
John Bercow: Thank you. I’m delighted to dip my toes in the water. And I hope you feel the same at the end.
Deborah Frances-White: Yes, well, well, I’ll let you know. But probably off air. Now on this first episode, we’re going to be talking about a role which you know very well, indeed, John, because you were in it for 10 years. It’s the Speaker of the House of Commons. John’s the most famous Speaker of the House of Commons, I would say in our in our time. That’s fair, isn’t it? John?
John Bercow: Yes except some people would insert the letters ‘i and n’ in front of the famous and some would not.
Deborah Frances-White: I think you were much enjoyed by the British public.
John Bercow: Oh, thank you. You say all the right things ever. I’m tempted to continue this conversation indefinitely.
Deborah Frances-White: You you sort of trademarked the word ORDER in a way.
John Bercow: OR-DER!
Deborah Frances-White: Exactly. It’s uncanny. And so lifelike. Some of what was seen on YouTube as your best put downs include, and I quote them here, “That sticker on the subject of Brexit happens to be affixed to or in the windscreen of my wife’s car. And I’m sure the honourable gentlemen wouldn’t suggest for one moment that a wife is somehow the property or chattel of her husband.” That one particularly endeared me to you.
John Bercow: Thank you.
Deborah Frances-White: John, as I am a well-known feminist
John Bercow: Indeed.
Deborah Frances-White: Another of your more famous quotes. “Mr. Angus Brendan MacNeil, calm yourself, you may be a cheeky chappie, but you are also an exceptionally noisy one.”
John Bercow: Indeed.
Deborah Frances-White: After the imposition of the migrant ban, and this is my favourite, this is when you really won me over. “After the imposition of the migrant ban, I am even more strongly opposed to an address by President Trump in Westminster Hall.” There was so much cheering when you said that!
John Bercow: Well, thank you, I felt very strongly about it. It wasn’t something contrived long in advance as a statement, it was a series of words uttered by me in response, if memory serves me correctly, to a point of order, from a Labour MP, from Cardiff, South and Panarth, Stephen Doughty. And looking back, as I’ve very occasionally done, I’m reminded that I didn’t have any notes or text in front of me, I simply sought to respond to his inquiry about how these visits were planned and what the arrangements would be, what the sort of guiding principles were as to whether such a visit should or shouldn’t take place. And I tried to talk him through the procedure. But as I did in the process, make it clear that I myself was strongly opposed to a visit. And as you say, there was a notable reaction. I mean, there was hostile reaction, as well, because you can’t please everybody. And all I can say is that it fell within my bailiwick to take a view on the matter. And having taken a view on the matter, I thought it was sensible to express it.
Deborah Frances-White: Can I just tell us reverse there? It fell within your bailiwick? What, what is that word? It sounds quite hardcore.
John Bercow: (laughs) remit.
Deborah Frances-White: Right? Okay. Is that-
John Bercow: Domain-
Deborah Frances-White: -Is that is that a-
John Bercow: -responsibility.
Deborah Frances-White: Is that a common word in parliament?
John Bercow: It is probably not a common word. And it is no doubt an early example, in this exchange, Deborah, of my eccentricity.
Deborah Frances-White: Well, listen, I’ll be using bailiwick The whole time and actually, listeners, if you could start to make bailiwick happen, we’d really appreciate it. Did you get trending? Could we-
John Bercow: (laughing) We’ve only been going about five minutes and I’m being roundly ridiculed and teased!
Deborah Frances-White: (laughing) I love words like bailiwick! And I will be using it. And I am genuinely saying, Let’s make bailiwick happen. People at home who’ve watched Prime Minister’s questions or other footage of parliament will have seen you or your successor or your predecessor, sitting at one end of the chamber and deciding who gets to speak. So if you’re listening internationally, it looks like a sort of dining hall at a boy’s private school, very rowdy, lots of people shouting things, and somebody needs to keep order. Somebody needs to be in charge of that and saying, Look, this is just getting too rowdy. And somebody needs to say who gets to speak now? Who gets right of way somebody needs to conduct the traffic, if you will. Yes, that person was you. So can I ask?
John Bercow: Yes I’m not sure l altogether appreciate the comparison with a traffic warden. I know politicians aren’t very popular. But it has to be said that traffic wardens aren’t to universally popular either, nevertheless there is a resemblance. I think I prefer umpire or referee. But I maybe didn’t get to pick. You are the arbiter.
Deborah Frances-White: I’m thinking of more of one of those old fashioned traffic directors, you know, with the white gloves. Not somebody who comes and gives you a ticket. But somebody who stands in the middle and conducts like like an orchestra conductor.
John Bercow: That’s more flattering, very much more flattering, I’m warming to this.
Deborah Frances-White: So can you give me the headlines of what is the role of the speaker? And What responsibilities does that speaker have?
John Bercow: Initially, the speaker was so called because he, and it was always a he, was expected to be the king’s spokesman to Parliament, that is to say, he had the responsibility to communicate upon pain of death to Parliament, the wishes and in some cases, perhaps even the demands of the king. The story of the evolution of our history, from a very powerful monarchy to a modern democracy means that today, the speaker is not the Queen’s spokesman to Parliament, but rather Parliament’s spokesman-
Deborah Frances-White: -person, spokesperson to the Queen-
John Bercow: Exactly. And so the responsibility of the speaker is to communicate to Her Majesty, what parliament has decided what acts for example, it has passed which await her royal assent, but which is understood in the modern context to be a constitutional necessity, but also a constitutional formality. What is the speaker’s job in a nutshell, to keep order encourage people to take part and try to cut down on the number of people excluded all together as a result of bad behaviour. Questions are the result of an electronic ballot, which is conducted independently of and without any involvement by the speaker. And if they’re drawn in the ballots, then they’re on the order paper, that is to say the agenda, the list of questioners for the day. But aside from those people, Deborah drawn lucky in the ballot, there is scope for supplementary questions by other members of parliament.
Deborah Frances-White: So just to be clear, who’s asking these questions? And who is answering these questions?
John Bercow: Overwhelmingly, people asking the questions are members of parliament, but they are not repeat, not repeat, not members of the government. And the people answering the questions are repeat are repeat are members of the government. The reason I underlined that is that it really speaks to the essence of parliamentary democracy, which is about the accountability of government of what we often call the executive branch of our political system, to Parliament to the legislature.
Deborah Frances-White: And so you won’t see members of government aren’t asking questions because they should be able to get in the meetings they have, yes,
John Bercow: Ministers have their own opportunity to raise matters of concern, for example, to their constituents, with their ministerial colleagues, either in private meetings or conversations or in correspondence. And actually, that’s true of the speaker as well. The speaker doesn’t ask questions in the chamber of ministers and people often use to say, Mr. Speaker, how do you given that you’re the speaker represent your constituents? How can you ask questions given that you’re not allowed to ask questions?
Deborah Frances-White: I’d like to know that too. Because if I were in your constituency and you had to remain neutral the whole time. I’d be slightly annoyed.
John Bercow: Yes, I totally get that, Deborah. And you would be amongst a very large number of people in the backing constituency by no means all personally hostile to me at all. Who did feel that way. My answer was and remains that I represented my constituents, in correspondence with ministers, and in meetings with ministers. And I remember remarking to my private secretary that I was very struck by the speed with which these ministers were applying and by their seniority. And he said to me, oh, there’s no surprise about that, Mr. Speaker. It’s a mark of very considerable disgrace if a minister so hacks off the speaker that the speaker demands to see the minister to remonstrate. So I, struck by this said, “Oh, I see. So, if I were annoyed with Jack, I would go to see him at the Ministry of Justice would I to complain?” To which he instantly replied, “No, Mr. Speaker, in those circumstances, you don’t go to the Ministry of Justice to see Mr. Secretary Straw. Mr. Secretary Straw comes to see you in speaker’s House for a meeting – without coffee.” That never happened, Deborah. That never happened to me.
Deborah Frances-White: I think I’d be a quite a good speaker. John, how do I apply for this job? What’s day one?
John Bercow: Deborah, your talents are manifold, and widely celebrated. I think there can be little doubt that this would be well within your capabilities. But I don’t wish rudely to shock you, while nevertheless having to point out that there is a preliminary qualification. And that is that you must secure election to the House of Commons. Now going back to the subject you were raising with me…
Deborah Frances-White: That’s easy. I’m in Keir Starmer’s constituency, he’ll be gone by…
John Bercow: -Oh you’re going to ask Sir Keir to step aside? Not because you wish to pursue a socialist vision which you think you’ll do better than he, but because you now have this aggressive personal objective of becoming Speaker of the House of Commons, without any regard to his constitutional rights, remove his shoes and put them on your own feet and clamber into the House of Commons. Again, not specifically for the pursuit of the public good, or the representation of the people of Holborn and St Pancras, which ought properly to motivate you Deborah, but because you have this rampant, insatiable, ruthless desire to be Speaker of the House of Commons. Well, now, I think that we know the colour of your money, I think we have your number. No, you would have to be a member of parliament…
Deborah Frances-White: Why would you even want the job? Like what’s good about it?
John Bercow: You may well have decided that you’re not cut out to be a minister, or that you’re not likely to be asked to be a minister, or that you don’t think you’d be a very good minister. And all of those things were true, in my case. I didn’t think I was cut out to be a minister. I thought it was precious little chance of being asked by David Cameron to be a minister. And I didn’t frankly want to be a minister or think that I’d be a very good minister. Now, you go beyond that and say, Yeah, but why don’t you just want to go on being an assiduous and conscientious constituency Member of Parliament? Well, I enjoyed being a constituency Member of Parliament. I was increasingly independent of – not completely separate from but increasingly independent of – my party, very much on the liberal wing of the Conservative Party, following considerable political movement by me leftwards over the years, but I suppose there is a glint of ambition in the eyes of most politicians. And I thought, well, Deborah, I can do something more than that. The one consistent stranded my career has been an absolute devotion to and passion for and belief in Parliament, as a debating chamber, as a forum for representation, as the place where great causes can be championed. And indeed, the cause of parliamentary scrutiny of government is an important cause in its own right. And I thought, well, actually, I think I could do that job.
Deborah Frances-White: At this point, who am I convincing that I need to be speaker?
John Bercow: Very good question. The answer is you’re convincing Members of Parliament. The election of the speaker is now undertaken, it used to be done by divisions of the House for or against a particular candidate, which was quite a long-winded way of doing it. It is now done by secret ballot of all members of the House. And so it is Members of Parliament whom you have to convince. That’s quite relevant in one sense to underline, Deborah, because I remember during the campaign, there was at least one newspaper that was vitriolically hostile to me, and a scribbler, in that paper who was making a point of writing about his pejoratively and abusively as he could. One of my very good friends in Parliament said to me, John, don’t read it because it’s poisonous and nasty and rather stupid. But he said, ultimately, he sensed there was a degree of frustration in the mind of this scribbler, because he was sort of ranting to a Daily Mail audience. But was he likely to be effective? Effective in dissuading people from voting for me? Probably not. People who were hostile to me were hostile to me and weren’t going to vote for me anyway. And people who were sympathetic to me, and thought I’d be a good speaker, more inclined to vote for me, were frankly not going to be in any way influenced by a right-wing scribbler on the Daily Mail. What this journalist or that journalist or the other journalist or indeed what civil servants, or even members of the public think of you isn’t actually all that relevant. The electorate is 650 MPs. And what you’ve got to do is to persuade more people to vote for you.
Deborah Frances-White: So do you go out to people who are sort of warm to you, you think, and take them for lunch and explain what kind of speaker you’d be like? How do you sell yourself in that situation? Because, you know, I’m in comedy, but we have an agent who does that. I mean, it’s my job to say, “Oh, I’m not sure I’m terribly good.” And then have my agent go, “She’s amazing!” As a politician, you can’t do that. You have to say, “I’m the right person for the job.”
John Bercow: Yes, you can’t have somebody else. Doing it all for you. You can have a team of people helping and I did actually have a regional structure. I know that sounds rather official and maybe even slightly pretentious. I think it was just a feature of good organisation. I’m not a natural organiser, but I had a campaign manager called Martin Salter, who was Labour Member of Parliament for Reading West. And he had offered to manage my campaign and Martin is an absolutely brilliant political organiser, and he established a sort of regional structure so that I had representatives in all the regions feeding into him the result of the calls they’d made. So did I phone every MP? No, I phoned a lot and we would agree who I would call, but sometimes people would be teed up in advance by one of my campaign team, and then I’d get the feedback: that person is definitely voting for you. You know if you see him or her say thank you.
Deborah Frances-White: But don’t waste time taking him to lunch.
John Bercow: Truth be told I didn’t actually do much by way of lunching or dining. Now. I don’t want listeners to think wow, what a cheapskate, what a parsimonious fellow, or just a plain, simple, old fashioned meanie, some sort of tight fisted character. Not at all. It’s just that although actually in leadership elections, party leadership elections, it was not unknown for candidates to throw lunches – more often drinks parties, I would say – but they may have taken people to lunch or dinner. In the speakership election, there was such a huge number of people to contact in a relatively circumscribed timetable of a month that, frankly, I didn’t get into taking people to lunch or dinner, but I would often meet people for a cup of coffee and a chat either in their office or in mine or in Portcullis House where my own parliamentary office was located
Deborah Frances-White: Coffee again, being significant. I didn’t know coffee was so significant.
John Bercow: Coffee was significant.
Deborah Frances-White: This is what I need to know
John Bercow: Quite a lot thereof was consumed. Now I don’t want coffee to be a bar. We can’t be coffee-ist. I mean, it’s perfectly possible for somebody who prefers tea to stand for Speaker and is perfectly possible for somebody to stand for Speaker resolutely committed to consuming neither coffee nor tea, and nothing stronger – in Peter Mandelson’s words – than hot water. That is possible.
Deborah Frances-White: You can lure people in just with the strength of your personality. It doesn’t have to be the strength of your coffee.
* * * * *
Deborah Frances-White: I mean, this is quite an ancient job you took on. Do you know who the first chap in the job was, and when?
John Bercow: The earliest year for which a presiding officer has been identified is 1258, when Peter de Montford presided over the sitting of parliament. That was held in Oxford. I’m not myself by any means convinced that he qualifies as the first Speaker of the House of Commons. The continuous history of the office of Speaker is thought instead to date from 1376, when Sir Peter de la Mer spoke for the Commons in what was called “The Good Parliament”. And then just to complicate matters, you can’t get a simple answer to a simple question I’m afraid – you’ll be very disappointed if you think you can – it’s often said that I’m the shortest man ever to be Speaker of the House of Commons. This is quite wrong. There’s nothing wrong with being short. We short people on the whole are environmentally friendly in the sense that we don’t take up a lot of space. But it’s quite wrong when some of these more downmarket, low music hall, fifth rate, scribblers in the tabloids say “Oh Bercow is the shortest man ever to be Speaker.” Sir John Bussey, Speaker of the UK House of Commons from 1394 to 1398; Sir John Wenlock, speaker from 1455 to 1456; and Sir Thomas Tresham, Speaker in 1459, are all believed to have been shorter than I am. Although I do have to admit that this was true only after all three of them had been beheaded. Indeed, no fewer than seven of my predecessors met their end on the executioner’s block. One was killed in battle and a further poor unfortunate soul was brutally murdered. So you will understand that this did enable me to view the ways and challenges which afflicted and confronted the Speaker of the House with an appropriate sense of historical perspective. That is to say, whatever else happened to me, I knew that I wasn’t likely to lose my head.
Deborah Frances-White: Speaking of sometimes the job being in danger, was there a coup to try and get you out at one point?
John Bercow: In March 2015, instead of being re-elected at the start of a new parliament, by a simple collection of the voices – that is to say, the Father of the House saying, proposition is that Mr. John Bercow do sit in this house, as speaker, as many of that opinion aye, of the contrary no. And it being determined on the basis of which was the louder cry, it should perhaps be done by secret ballot. And this idea was, as I say, put to the procedure committee, and they reflected on it and the procedure committee decided that they didn’t favour a secret ballot at the start of a parliament and the matter just sat there for quite some time. And then, just before the end of the 2010-15 parliament, the Leader of the House, William Hague, decided that he thought that this proposition be allowed to be put to the House – with a view to it being implemented at the start of the 2015 parliament, a few weeks thereafter. And so he came to see me on the penultimate day of Parliament sitting, before we broke up for the 2015 election. He asked in the morning for a meeting with me and he came to see me at half past five in the afternoon. And he came to tell me that he had tabled a motion that would go on the order paper for the next day, which would contain the proposition that the speaker should thereafter be reelected at the start of a Parliament, by secret ballot if there was so much as one dissenting voice. And I said to him, that I felt abject contempt for the way in which he was behaving, coming to me on the penultimate day and springing this on me. He very disingenuously said to me that it would be a free vote, but in fact, I quickly discovered that the government was whipping people to vote in favour of a secret ballot. And he said ‘It will be a free vote. It is not a party matter, and it will be a matter for the judgement of the House.’ But, yes, it was a matter of the judgement of the house. But the fact is, despite his denials, disavows and deceptions, the government was trying to change the rules. In order to stuff me.
Deborah Frances-White: I read that he was doing the bidding of David Cameron and actually didn’t really want to do it. And that’s why he kind of tipped you off, otherwise it would have been done without your knowledge. Is that true?
John Bercow: I think that’s a very charitable interpretation. I can well believe that it was done at the instigation of others. My sense is that David Cameron was certainly behind it, he will certainly have known about it. William tipped me off, because it would have been a quite extraordinary discourtesy, not even to tell me that the motion was going to be tabled, so that I just regarded as a box ticking courtesy on his part. But he didn’t tip me off in the sense that he gave me any opportunity to do anything about it. The government was tabling the motion, and I certainly couldn’t prevent that happening. So he wasn’t seeking to give me any advantage by telling me. I think he probably just wanted to protect himself from the charge of complete discourtesy, which would have been levelled at him if he hadn’t told me at all. The House debated the matter the following day. Very large numbers of members had gone off to start campaigning in the general election, but considerable numbers of members came back and the government lost the vote. And it has to be said that it was a very sad last day for William Hague in the House of Commons, he was standing down at the general election, he subsequently went to the House of Lords. It was frankly a pitiful way for him to conclude his parliamentary career. I felt not so much embarrassed by William. I felt embarrassed for him.
Deborah Frances-White: He certainly wasn’t sent a complimentary cappuccino that day.
John Bercow: He was not. And he did not receive a Christmas card from me. I can’t recall whether I received one from him. But I’ve always felt about William that I would buy him at my valuation, sell him it his, and realise a healthy profit in the process.
Deborah Frances-White: So I’ve got some questions here. from Twitter.
John Bercow: Oh, really? Yeah. Did you genuinely conduct a Twitter poll?
Deborah Frances-White: Yes! there’s a genuine Twitter poll out there @TheDanFord asks, “Is the chair comfy, John?”
John Bercow: Very comfy. You don’t want to get up. I sat in it once, Dan Ford, for 14 hours. I may tell you.
Deborah Frances-White: Now I’ve heard about this. And you were the longest ever not to go to the loo.
John Bercow: Indeed. I came to be dubbed Golden bladder.
Deborah Frances-White: Nice. Nice.
John Bercow: You really wanted to know that, Deborah.
Deborah Frances-White: I mean… @AdamUnwin asks, Do you receive training before taking on the role? It’s good question. Is there a sort of training academy like a Top Gun Academy? You’re the best of the best and we’ll make you better?
John Bercow: There isn’t a training academy. But you can learn the skills of chairing by sitting on the speaker’s panel of chairs who chaired bill committees and delegated legislation committees in committee rooms upstairs on the committee corridor. And I did do that from July 2005 until I stood for speaker in June 2009. So the short answer is that I did do my homework. And although I was chairing much smaller groups of people, I was effectively playing the role of the speaker in a bill committee in that I was the impartial umpire or referee of the proceedings. So I became more familiar with the procedure…
Deborah Frances-White: Does the former speaker take you out for a lunch? Show you the ropes, and give you some classes in how to say order?
John Bercow: No, no-
Deborah Frances-White: Disappointing!
John Bercow: The former speaker had retired – not just as speaker, but as a Member of Parliament – the day before I was elected.
Deborah Frances-White: You just find your way
John Bercow: You just have to hack it.
Deborah Frances-White: I mean, you know, this is the harsh truth of politics.
John Bercow: Indeed
Deborah Frances-White: @A_Linsell asks what can the Speaker do, or not do, about MPs who mislead the house?
John Bercow: The Speaker has to be very careful about that. I would rather put it the other way round and say that a Member is not allowed – some people think that this is arcane and wrong – but a Member is not allowed to accuse another Member of misleading the house unless he or she includes the word “inadvertently”. Because if a Member accuses another Member of misleading the house, and there is no reference to it being an inadvertent misleading, the accusation is effectively a charge of dishonesty. And one member is not allowed to impugn the honour or integrity of another,
Deborah Frances-White: Even if it’s Boris Johnson?
John Bercow: Even if it is Boris Johnson
Deborah Frances-White: Who, it is on record, lies the whole time and doesn’t apologise?
John Bercow: Yes, but the answer to that is, again, it’s still supposed to be done. If somebody is to accuse him of misleading the house, of dishonesty, it is supposed to be done on a motion that is in front of the House. And there was one occasion when a Labour member, Chris Bryant, accused a government minister of lying. And Conservative Members were absolutely outraged that I didn’t rule him out of order. The reason why I didn’t rule him out of order, Deborah, is that the whole subject matter of the debate was the conduct of the Secretary of State in relation to whom the motion had been tabled. So Chris Bryant was speaking to the motion in saying what he did, and therefore that was the one circumstance the one scenario if you will, in which it was legitimate, to accuse another member of dishonesty. Whether it was tasteful or not, is another matter, but it was not illegitimate. So on three occasions over 10 years, I asked people to leave the chamber for the rest of the day because they’d accused another member of dishonesty.
Deborah Frances-White: If you knew someone was being dishonest, and they were accused of dishonesty, would you still have to say you have to say that’s inadvertent, even though you thought it wasn’t inadvertent, it was quite vertent?
John Bercow: I would be very loathe, from the chair – and I don’t think I did so – to accuse a member of speaking dishonestly in the House. You’d have to be absolutely certain that that was the case. And it isn’t really for the Speaker to rule on whether a member is being honest or not. Each member is responsible for the veracity of what he or she says to the chamber. So if there is a widespread feeling that a member has misled the House, then the House can take the matter into his own hands. I know that, most recently there has been a grave concern that the Prime Minister and the truth are nodding acquaintances, only in a leap year. And that will play out over a period. That is to say if Members feel very strongly that he is misleading the house, they will find a way of registering that view, even if it isn’t successfully registered, even if there isn’t a successful vote, they will be able, on a motion, to make that point, if and when they wish,
Deborah Frances-White: Just to speak to @A_Lincell’s question, if somebody has said something and then it turns out what they said was incorrect, do you ask them or can they say actually, last week, I said this, can I correct it, please?
John Bercow: Yes. In some cases, I would ask a Member to come and correct the record. And in other cases, a Member would ask me, I remember when a minister in the Conservative government, a Secretary of State, inadvertently gave a wrong and misleading answer the house. That Minister approached me and said, ‘Mr. Speaker, I did err in my answer the other day can I…’ – I think it was even the previous day. She said, ‘Can I come to the house and correct the record on a point of order?’ And I said, ‘Yes, absolutely. You can. And indeed, you should.’ And she did.
Deborah Frances-White: Has Boris Johnson ever asked to do that?
John Bercow: No.
Deborah Frances-White: Okay, and no further questions. So finally, John, where would you put the Speaker in terms of influence in British politics? Where does the Speaker sit on the scale from basically irrelevant to absolute power?
John Bercow: Nowhere near to absolute power! I do not think the Speaker is basically irrelevant. I think that the Speaker can have quite a lot to do with the culture of the House, the timbre of debate, the extent to which members are able properly to scrutinise the government. I think the Speaker’s quite a significant figure in that respect. But is there anything near to absolute power? No. Nor should there be. The government, which is drawn from the elected parliament, you know, has the most power. So where would I put the Speaker? I suppose I’d put the Speaker somewhere in the middle. You know, complete irrelevance? Absolutely not, and that would just be pejorative abusive if somebody said, whoever the speaker is, it doesn’t matter. It’s irrelevant. That’s just not true. The Speaker can make and does make, and has frequently made a very considerable difference, but is the Speaker you know, an imperious or omnipotent figure? No, the Speaker is not, I would say the Speaker is there to facilitate the will of the House of Commons.
Deborah Frances-White: So a five out of ten.
John Bercow: A five out of ten perhaps.
Deborah Frances-White: Excellent. Did you enjoy your time as Speaker?
John Bercow: I loved it. I didn’t want to be Speaker simply so that I could say to my children or God willing, one day, my grandchildren, ‘I served as Speaker’. I said when I stood for office – not everybody will accept this or believe this or think that it was borne out by events because I’m quite a strong personality. But I said when I stood for office that I didn’t want to be someone, I wanted to do something. I wanted, through my own initiatives and in collaboration with working on behalf of colleagues in the House to deliver a reform agenda reform agenda that was about revitalising the legislature, about modernising the parliamentary estate, and I had ups and downs, I had successes and failures, I made friends and I incurred enemies – and to err is human so I’m perfectly ready to acknowledge that I made mistakes but Deborah, I often said to school and university audiences that I had no plans to die tomorrow but that if I died tomorrow die happy feeling I’ve been extremely lucky.